A Lamoille County jury last week found a man guilty of sex crimes three years after a judge dismissed a separate jury’s verdict on the same crimes from a decade ago.
James Menize, 58, formerly of Johnson and currently lodged at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, was found guilty by jury on Friday, Oct. 15, of aggravated sexual assault against a minor and lewd and lascivious conduct with a minor.
According to court documents, Menize, who was a janitor at Waterville Elementary School at the time of the 2010 allegations, was accused of inappropriately touching two young girls at a sleepover at his house, allegedly climbing into bed with the girls in the middle of the night and fondling them.
School officials said they had no information linking the charges to any incidents at school.
Although the victims are now more than a decade older, this newspaper is still bound by its policy to not reveal the identities of victims of sexual or domestic violence.
In 2011, Menize was sentenced to spend 20 years to life in prison after being convicted of two counts of aggravated sexual assault.
He was serving his sentence in a Kentucky prison but in 2018 Menize successfully petitioned the court to vacate his conviction. Judge Thomas Carlson ruled that Menize’s trial lawyer didn’t do a good enough job representing him and the case should be returned to the criminal division for retrial.
In the 2011 trial, Menize was represented by Scott Williams, who would later become Washington County state’s attorney, before stepping down from that post due to mental health issues.
Menize argued, and Carlson ruled, that Williams did not do a good enough job of defending his client, particularly when it came to the jury trial, in which he all but gave up in his cross-examination of the alleged victims.
“The court does not by any means conclude that petitioner (Menize) was innocent. It is to say that petitioner did not get a fair trial in this case,” Carlson wrote in his July 31, 2018, order. “Essentially, trial counsel did not put on a defense during the admission of evidence, and he surrendered in closing.”
This time around, Menize represented himself.
Not only was this the second time a jury found Menize guilty of the sex crimes, but it was also the second time Lamoille County State’s Attorney Todd Shove successfully prosecuted Menize. Shove was deputy state’s attorney under Joel Page in 2010-2011 and handled the case.
“For these girls to have to go through this multiple times now, I’m happy for them with the outcome,” Shove said this week.
Ten years later, last week’s jury trial was the first one at Lamoille County Superior Court in Hyde Park since the beginning of the pandemic, Shove said — there have multiple pre-trial cases that ended up settling before a jury was selected.
Menize, on April 5, filed a motion to dismiss the case on the basis that his right to a speedy trial had been hampered, not just because of the pandemic and not just in this re-try version of the case. But judge Nancy Waples denied that motion, citing Menize’s choice to represent himself, the numerous motions he filed, and the fact that the pandemic had prohibited jury trials in Vermont, even as recently as this spring.
Shove said last week, on the eve of the jury draw, the state had to amend one of the original sexual assault charges to a lesser felony-level lewd and lascivious charge based on a change of testimony from a witness.
However, the one conviction of sexual assault on a minor still carries a 10-year minimum sentence, with a maximum of life in prison. Menize has been in prison for a decade, moved from Kentucky to Newport in preparation for his second trial, and Shove argues that, because he had a new trial, any credit for time served will not apply.
“So, that means the 10 years he has served might not count,” Shove said.
Menize’s sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled, and Shove suspects Menize will appeal to the state Supreme Court. As of press time, an appeal had not been filed.