Family awarded $1 million in wrongful death case
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | October 25,2012
Noting that money could never replace human life, a Rutland judge awarded more than $1 million to the family of a Castleton man murdered five years ago in downtown Rutland.
“Under no circumstances is there anything I can do that would ever ultimately compensate the family for the loss of John Baptie,” Judge William Cohen said at the end of a two-hour hearing to determine damages in a wrongful death case brought by Baptie’s estate. “But civil law does provide some remedies.”
For the killing of Baptie and the loss and trauma visited on his family, Cohen found Jonathan Bruno, the 28-year-old convicted of second-degree murder in the case, liable for $1.05 million in damages.
Bruno was convicted two years ago and sentenced to serve 35 years to life behind bars for using a knife to kill the 24-year-old Castleton man during an argument at the Rutland Shopping Plaza on Nov. 1, 2007.
Tom Costello, the Brattleboro attorney representing Baptie’s family, has said in the past that the family probably wouldn’t be able to collect much from Bruno, who has no assets to speak of.
But he said the affirmation of the family’s loss was valuable to a family trying to move forward.
“They don’t care about the money in this case as much as they care about a figure of authority making a statement about their loss,” he said.
Baptie’s father, Tom Baptie, told the judge about his close relationship with a son who shared his hobbies and pursuits, such as hunting and fishing, and the trauma of losing a son.
“I talked about how much time we spent together and how much I miss him. It’s that simple,” Tom Baptie said after the hearing.
The hearing this week brings an end to the family’s case against Bruno but the family’s legal fight against another person who they say contributed to Baptie’s death may move to the state’s Supreme Court.
For years, the family has argued that Baptie’s death could have been prevented if police had more vigorously pursued an investigation into threatening phone calls that Bruno made to the family days before the murder.
The officer who conducted that investigation, former Castleton Police Officer Aron McNeil, was originally named alongside Bruno in the wrongful death lawsuit.
But a Judge Mary Miles Teachout decided in August that Baptie’s family lacked the proof to show that McNeil could have foreseen the killing or that his handling of an investigation into harassing phone calls that Bruno had made to the Bapties’ phone were a factor in the fatal encounter that followed.
The family could appeal that decision now that the case against Bruno has been resolved. Costello said the family hasn’t decided yet whether to proceed with an appeal.