Man jailed after machete assault
By Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | September 06,2012
A 60-year-old disabled man who allegedly attacked and injured his Castleton neighbors with a machete over the weekend remains behind bars after answering to two felony assault charges.
Emilliano Zapatta, who appeared in Rutland criminal court in a wheelchair Tuesday, pleaded innocent to aggravated assault charges that carry a potential 30-year jail sentence.
The Florida man, who owns land on Pond Hill Road in Castleton where he lives part time in a trailer, allegedly attacked his next-door neighbors — whom he has been battling in court — Sunday evening in an assault that sent the husband and wife to the hospital with cuts.
During Zapatta’s appearance in court, public defender Robb Spensley argued against high bail for his client, who he said could barely get around his trailer using a walker and was unlikely to have been able to carry out the assault.
“Mr. Zapatta has a very different account of what happened and who started it,” Spensley said. “He’s been disabled for 15 years. ... As far as running across the yard and attacking people with a machete, we question that, your honor.”
But 77-year-old Douglas Cook, his 72-year-old wife, Sheila Cook, and a friend of the couple told Castleton police that Zapatta attacked them just before 7 p.m. Sunday.
Douglas Cook told police he was checking on some trees near the boundary of his property and Zapatta’s land when Zapatta attacked him. Cook told police he fell to the ground while trying to run away and Zapatta jumped on him holding a machete.
Zapatta allegedly pinned his neighbor to the ground and wrapped an electrical cord around his neck that Cook said choked him into unconsciousness.
Sheila Cook said she and a friend who was visiting witnessed the assault and ran to help.
Sheila Cook told police that she grappled with Zapatta, trying to wrestle the machete away from him as he struck her in the head with the handle and punched her husband in the face.
The couple’s friend Nancy Ward told police she picked up a heavy metal wire and struck Zapatta repeatedly in the back of the head.
Zapatta ran back to his house as sirens approached, Ward said.
Zapatta and the Cooks have been involved in a three-year court case involving a portion of Zapatta’s land that his bank foreclosed on, according to court records and courtroom arguments. The Cooks’ home sits on land that once belonged to Zapatta.
When he was questioned by police, Zapatta, a former airline captain, said he was walking in the woods with his dogs when he came upon Douglas Cook pouring gasoline onto a generator Zapatta owns.
Zapatta said he tried to tie Cook’s hands with the extension cord to secure him until police arrived.
Officer Cheri McDermott of the Castleton police said she found no gasoline on Zapatta’s generator. She also said the Cooks were taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center for their injuries, which she said included cuts and bruises.
Zapatta said he was injured, too.
Police did not report whether they recovered a machete from Zapatta’s home.
During the arraignment, Spensley pointed out bandages on Zapatta’s hands and a long cut on his forehead that the defense attorney said were the result of injuries inflicted by the couple.