By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: June 16, 2009
BRATTLEBORO — A car had already driven over the flowers marking the faded blood stain on Elliot Street in Brattleboro, scattering red petals across the pavement Monday afternoon.
Now Carl Dunchus refused to budge from the makeshift memorial for his daughter’s dead fiance, even though a police officer in a marked cruiser was telling him to back away. He was causing a disturbance, the officer said, and he needed to move.
Friends of the slain David T. Snow, 26, watched from the sidewalk as Dunchus stood his ground, arguing for a moment with the officer before he was handcuffed and led to the back of the cruiser.
“I understand it was a tragedy, but … ” the officer said as he walked with Dunchus, his voice trailing off. The two men stopped and spoke for a moment. Then the handcuffs came off.
The officer slid back into the driver’s seat of the cruiser as Dunchus moved the flowers a little closer to the curb so other vehicles would not drive over them. When the cruiser pulled away, Dunchus remained at his post on the street.
“I’ll stay here for the rest of the day, at least,” he said, watching the traffic glide past.
Police say Andrew E. Sheets stabbed Snow in the neck during an argument that erupted early Monday morning.
Sheets, 41, of Brattleboro now faces a charge of second-degree murder.
Snow was walking a dog with his roommate when he saw Sheets arguing with his brother, Travis Sprague, 18, and was stabbed as he tried to intervene, according to witnesses.
They said Snow staggered across Elliot Street and Sprague held him at the patch of pavement that would become sacred ground for Dunchus and others who knew Snow.
“He was a decent kid. He’d give you the shirt off his back,” Dunchus said. “He gave his own life to protect his little brother.”
Snow had asked Dunchus’ daughter, Judy Brown, 23, to marry him the day before he died. The two shared a modest apartment in Brattleboro with Brown’s two children and other roommates.
Heather Sprague of Hinsdale got a phone call from Travis Sprague, her younger brother, a few hours after Snow was pronounced dead at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital. He was hysterical.
“I couldn’t understand half the things he said because he was bawling. He said his brother had been murdered. He said he died in his arms,” she said.
“Travis said he took his sweatshirt off, wrapped it around David’s neck and tried to put pressure on it. David told Travis he felt dizzy and he knew he was going to die.”
Snow left behind a young daughter who lives with one of her grandparents, Heather Sprague said.
“He just really wanted to be a good dad for his daughter,” she said.
Travis Sprague told police that Sheets, whom he didn’t know, had repeatedly asked him and his group of friends for money to buy cocaine, and then accused them of stealing from him before the stabbing.
Sprague also told Brattleboro police Lt. Michael W. Carrier that he’d seen Sheets ride a bicycle into the path of a vehicle, yell at the occupants for ripping him off and then stab one of the vehicle’s tires with a knife.
Later, Sheets was still holding a knife when Brattleboro police Officer Joshua Lynde stopped on Elliot Street moments after Snow was stabbed, according to Lynde’s affidavit.
“I walked over to Sheets and he got down on his knees and then (lay) out across the ground without me saying anything to him,” Lynde wrote.
“Sheets said he did it because they wanted to fight him. As I walked up I kicked a small switch blade knife away from Sheets.”
Sheets smelled of alcohol after the stabbing and said he was using cocaine, according to Brattleboro police detective Erik Johnson.
A shackled Sheets appeared Monday in Windham District Court and invoked his right to withhold a plea for 24 hours.
He said nothing during the brief hearing and kept his head lowered when he entered the courtroom.
Some of Snow’s family members and friends hissed barely audible curses when they first saw Sheets. Some sobbed and hugged in the hallway after the hearing.
Sheets was scheduled to return to the courtroom today and enter a plea. He is being held without bail.
Sheets’ lawyer, Darah Kehnemuyi of Brattleboro, argued during Monday’s hearing that Brattleboro police should wait until after today’s arraignment to photograph and examine Sheets’ body for evidence.
But Judge Karen R. Carroll said investigators should be allowed to examine Sheets as soon as possible because he is claiming self-defense in the incident.
Investigators must check his body for bruises, scratches or other marks that could help substantiate or refute his claim, she said.
Travis Sprague told police that no one provoked Sheets. He said Snow tried to punch Sheets, but only after Sheets lunged at him with a knife, slashing his shirt. He said Sheets then stabbed Snow in the neck and said, “I told you.”
Sheets has a criminal record in Florida, where he was sentenced in March 2007 to a year and a half in prison for fleeing police without regard for the public’s safety.
He was released from prison after serving less than eight months.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Sheets could be sent to prison for 20 years to life.