By PHILLIP BANTZ
The Keene Sentinel: June 17, 2009
BRATTLEBORO — The man accused of murdering a stranger on a Brattleboro street pleaded not guilty to the crime Tuesday during an emotional hearing in Windham District Court.
Andrew E. Sheets, 41, of Brattleboro was arraigned on a charge of second-degree murder as about 30 family members and friends of the slain David T. Snow, 26, sat in the courtroom seething.
Sheets’ mother and a few other relatives also attended the hearing, sitting together among empty chairs on the defense’s side of the courtroom, across from the packed benches behind the prosecution.
Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy K. Shriver asked during the hearing that Sheets be held without bail because he has criminal records in Massachusetts and Florida that date back to 1987 and include arrests for aggravated assault, resisting arrest, drug possession and weapons possession.
Shriver also said Sheets has deep roots in the Sunshine State but apparently minimal ties to Vermont, where he could face life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.
Shriver described Snow’s death as an “extreme act of random violence.”
Sheets’ attorney during the hearing, Darah Kehnemuyi, did not argue for bail because he was filling in for another attorney, Kerry DeWolfe, who will actually handle Sheets’ case. DeWolfe may still ask for a bail hearing.
After Judge Karen R. Carroll ordered Sheets held without bail, a sheriff’s deputy began to lead him from the courtroom and Snow’s aunt, Lori Adler of Hinsdale, stood and screamed “Coward!”
“Everywhere I look, there’s nothing but victims — everyone David touched,” Adler said in a phone interview today. “Now they’re saying it could be two years before (Sheets) could go to trial. I don’t know how I’m going to keep my family together.”
Sheets was drunk and had been using cocaine before he stabbed Snow in the neck early Monday morning while arguing with Snow’s brother, Travis Sprague, 18, on Elliot Street near the entrance of the Brattleboro Transportation Center, according to police affidavits.
Snow had been walking a dog with his roommate when he saw Sheets, whom he didn’t know, in a confrontation with Sprague, who called out that Sheets had a knife, according to police.
Snow came to Sprague’s aid and Sheets swung a knife at him, slicing open his shirt; Snow then tried to punch Sheets, who lunged again and stabbed his neck, witnesses told police.
Witnesses also said Snow died in Sprague’s arms on Elliot Street.
Snow’s fiancee, Judy Brown, 23, was by Snow’s side after the stabbing. She held his hand as he died.
Snow proposed to Brown the day before he was killed, according to Adler.
“They were trying to save up for their own place. He was trying to get back on his feet to have a place for his daughter,” Adler said. “He loved his family so much.”
Snow’s 5-year-old daughter, Keyaira, lives with her grandfather. She is unaware of what happened to her father, Adler said.
“They still don’t know how to tell her,” she said. “I mean, how do you tell that to a 5 year old?”
Snow, who lived with Brown in a modest apartment on Elm Street in Brattleboro, was also a father figure to Brown’s young son and daughter, according to neighbor Joyce Baker.
“He was just a really nice guy. We’d sit out on the porch and laugh and talk,” she said. “He seemed very respectful and (Brown’s) babies really seemed to like him.”
Adler and others who knew Snow said they were not surprised when they learned he died protecting Sprague.
“Even if it wasn’t his brother, he would have taken that knife for a total stranger,” Adler said. “He was always sticking up for the underdog. He was just an all-around good person who would give you the shirt off his back.”
Snow’s family is planning a cookout and bonfire this weekend in his honor. Snow’s remains will be cremated later and his ashes will be buried with his grandmother at a plot in Hinsdale, she said.
As Snow’s relatives and friends struggle to grasp the killing, employees at True Value Hardware on Putney Road in Brattleboro are still reeling from the news that a co-worker is accused of murder.
Joanna Babbitt, a cashier at the store, said she’d worked alongside Sheets for about three months before he was arrested in connection with Snow’s death.
“He was a friendly guy, seemed very normal, that’s why it was such a surprise,” she said. “No one here is saying much about it. They’re still in shock.”