Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to delay the upcoming drug trafficking and gun trial of a Philadelphia man — implicated in the fatal shooting of a Jeffersonville man 18 months ago — to see if they will be allowed to seek the death penalty in the case.
Taylor Ruffin Herrington, 35, of Philadelphia, is due to go on trial in U.S. District Court in Burlington this fall on charges of conspiracy to distribute heroin and possessing a firearm while trafficking drugs in March 2020.
Michael P. Haines, 39, was fatally shot inside his duplex at 96 Hillside Drive in Jeffersonville about 3 a.m. March 3, 2020, after he earlier stole heroin from Herrington, Vermont State Police said.
Herrington, who was outside the home and fired into the residence while Haines spoke with state police by phone, fled the scene in a truck driven by Samantha L. Simms, 34, of South Burlington, police said.
Simms is expected to be a witness in the federal case.
No state charges related to the homicide have been filed in Lamoille County.
But federal prosecutors said in recently filed court papers that the homicide investigation is complete, and there is a clearer picture about Herrington and his ongoing criminal conduct, prosecutors said.
They now say they are aware Herrington, also known as “Tee,” had been dealing both heroin and crack cocaine on a regular basis in the Chittenden County region as early as the summer of 2018.
“Herrington would bring drugs to Vermont to sell and was assisted in selling those drugs in Vermont by numerous local addicts, including Michael Haines. Herrington sold drugs in Vermont from 2018 until his arrest in March 2020,” assistant U.S. attorney Wendy L. Fuller wrote in seeking a delay in the trial.
Judge Christina Reiss, who issued a ruling Aug. 9 denying a defense request to suppress evidence, has scheduled a pre-trial conference or a change of plea hearing for Sept. 20.
But Fuller is asking for at least a 60-day pause in the proceedings. She said a date past Nov. 20 would be better.
The capital case unit within the criminal division for the U.S Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., must be consulted because some new possible criminal charges could trigger enhanced penalties, including the death penalty or a life term, the veteran prosecutor wrote.
The initial indictment, which was the basis for Herrington's arrest in Philadelphia on March 19, 2020, did not include any federal charges for the death or a drug conspiracy that spanned from 2018 to 2020 before Haines was killed, records show. The government now says it knows a lot more now.
Fuller said the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Vermont must start by making its own recommendation to the capital unit about whether to seek the death penalty. It is up to that unit to independently evaluate the homicide and make its own recommendation to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
Attorney Michael Desautels, the chief federal public defender, said Herrington opposes the government’s delay request.
Desautels said his office has been asking the government since at least September 2020 about “its determination on a capital versus noncapital prosecution, and about a resolution by change of plea.”
Desautels said the prosecution has said it can’t make a plea offer until the death penalty issue is resolved.
“This situation has stymied Mr. Herrington’s ability to prepare for trial and to have his case move forward. The fact that there is even now no determination on any of these matters causes Mr. Herrington to be concerned that a government determination could be beyond not only the September 2021 pretrial conference date, but also the government-requested November 2021 extension date,” Desautels wrote on Friday.
The fatal shooting
Herrington has admitted the fatal shooting to an unidentified person listed in federal court papers as a “source of information,” the government said in 2020 while seeking the defendant’s detention pending trial.
“Herrington also told the source of information that Herrington had recently solicited several of his associates from Philadelphia to travel to Vermont to kill the witnesses involved in the case,” Fuller wrote at the time.
Fuller’s motion does not name Simms or any other witnesses by name. Simms drove Herrington in her truck to Haines’ residence and Herrington subsequently fired multiple shots into the duplex.
Police have reported Haines was talking on the phone to the emergency dispatch center when he was shot. The fatal bullet struck the victim in the stomach and he was found dead on the kitchen floor, troopers said.
The shooting was sparked by the reported theft of 60-to-70 bundles of heroin by Haines from Herrington, who had been visiting for about a day, police said.
Police seized 62 bundles of heroin inside a recliner in Haines’ living room, Fuller has said.
The victim’s fiancée, Amy Pudvah, formerly of Fairfax, also was an eyewitness, police said.
Pudvah, who shared the residence, ran upstairs to barricade herself and her two juvenile children in a room after the shooting, police said.
Pudvah told state police the shooter had been visiting from Philadelphia. She said he was known as “Tee” and had been accompanied to the house by Simms, records show.
The Vermont Drug Task Force later that day busted Simms for selling methamphetamine to an informant working with police, who were attempting to identify Tee.
Police also traced that street name to Herrington, partly through a third person, Becky Bessette, when interviewed by Burlington Police on March 3, records show.
The FBI and Philadelphia Police arrested Herrington March 19, 2020, at a second floor apartment at 1304 West Chelton Avenue.
Herrington used to work for the U.S. Post Office in 2016 and 2017 and more recently had been an Uber/Lyft driver, former assistant federal defender Elizabeth Quinn said during a detention hearing.
Haines, who was born in Burlington and attended city schools, was listed as a landscaper with Moonlight Horticulture, according to his death certificate.