Crime and Justice

State police probe death of incarcerated person at Springfield prison 

Southern State Correctional Facility
Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

Updated at 6:31 p.m.

Vermont State Police are investigating the death of an incarcerated person Sunday at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield, three days before he was set to ask a federal judge to release him.  

Ronald Roy, 71, of Errol, New Hampshire, was in the prison infirmary when he was found unresponsive, according to a press release Monday afternoon from the state Department of Corrections. 

State police, per protocol, are investigating Roy’s death. In an earlier press release Sunday night, they said the death “does not appear suspicious.” An autopsy to determine the cause and manner of death will take place at the state's chief medical examiner’s office.

Roy is the sixth incarcerated person to die in the state’s prison system this year, and the fourth at the Springfield prison. Over the previous five years, a total of 15 people died in state prisons, according to the corrections department, including 12 at the Springfield prison. 

Asked why most of the deaths happened in Springfield, Rachel Feldman, a corrections department spokesperson, replied, “It would be speculative for me to say without looking at every case but I can say that Springfield is our largest facility and it also houses our most medically at-risk and vulnerable populations.” 

Corrections staff and prison medical personnel worked to provide life-saving care to Roy when he was found unresponsive on Sunday, the corrections department said in a press release. State police said their detectives responded after they were notified of Roy’s death a little after 3 p.m.

Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio, whose department includes the state’s prisoners’ right office, said the corrections department notified him Sunday of Roy’s death. The prisoners’ rights’ office launched its own investigation, as it does in all deaths of incarcerated individuals, he said.

Valerio said that Roy suffered from “medical conditions” but declined to elaborate or provide additional comment given the preliminary nature of the investigation.

Roy was in prison for distribution of heroin in a case that resulted in a death, according to court records. He was sentenced in federal court in New Hampshire in April 2002 to just over 17 years, followed by five years on supervised release.

He began serving the supervised release portion of his sentence in August 2019. In February, he allegedly violated the conditions of his release by breaking regulations at the Berkshire Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center in Sandisfield, Massachusetts, according to court records, and was re-incarcerated in Vermont. 

Following a hearing in April, Judge Geoffrey Crawford wrote that he found a basis to believe that Roy may be mentally incompetent and “unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense,” ordering a competency evaluation “to be conducted in Vermont as soon as possible.” 

That evaluation never took place. 

Michael Desautels, a federal public defender representing Roy, filed a motion July 22 seeking his client’s release, pending a hearing on whether to revoke his supervised release. Desautels contended that the court-ordered competency evaluation was taking a long time, delaying the resolution of the case while Roy remained in custody.

Desautels wrote that he had “no doubt” Roy was competent to proceed with the case based on conversations he and his colleagues had with him. 

“Although Mr. Roy expresses frustration and sadness at being in a jail, without a resolution of his case seemingly on the horizon, he has not shown evidence of being incompetent to proceed with the case,” Desautels wrote.

The defense attorney wrote that Roy faced between eight to 15 months based on federal sentencing guidelines, which are advisory, and argued the five months his client had already served was enough. 

“Mr. Roy is elderly and infirm; he has neither the desire nor the means to travel to avoid coming back to court,” he wrote. “He simply wants to be outside of the walls of a prison until his supervised release case is resolved.”

Desautels also indicated that securing housing in New Hampshire — other than a homeless shelter — would be challenging. 

Assistant U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles, the prosecutor, submitted a filing Aug. 5 arguing in favor of waiting for “the benefit of the competency evaluation.” The process to obtain one, she said, had been “lengthy” but was “ongoing.”

Cowles wrote that releasing Roy to a homeless shelter did not appear to be appropriate, “given his age and medical conditions.”

A hearing on Roy’s motion for release from custody had been set for Wednesday in federal court in Rutland. 

Desautels, reached Monday, declined comment on Roy’s medical condition or if his client had spoken about the care he received at the Springfield prison. 

Fabienne Boisvert-DeFazio, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Vermont, declined to respond to a question about delays in the case. 

Five other people have died at the Springfield prison this year. 

On May 17, state police reported that David R. Goldstein, 56, died after suffering a “medical event” while being held at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.

On April 28, state police reported that Matthew Castellini, 35, died of a suspected suicide at the Springfield prison while incarcerated.

Raymond Gadreault, 73, died at the Springfield prison in February from what state police deemed to be natural causes.

Earlier in April, Dustin Dunkling, 29, of St. Albans died by an apparent suicide at the St. Johnsbury prison, state police reported at the time.  

Michael Cornell, 34, died on New Year’s Day at the Newport prison from an accidental drug overdose, according to his death certificate.

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