Man held; accused of murder attempt

Eric Denis

A Morrisville man is being held without bail after allegedly shooting a .308 caliber rifle at his wife’s lover in Morrisville Tuesday night.

Eric Denis, 25, has been charged with first-degree attempted murder and a misdemeanor count of domestic assault. If convicted, he faces 35 years to life in prison, without the possibility of parole.

Denis, in a green T-shirt and jeans, was led into Lamoille District Court Wednesday afternoon in leg shackles and handcuffs.

He pleaded not guilty to shooting at Nicholaus Bartlett, 30, of Johnson. According to a police affidavit filed with the court, Denis and his wife, Stephanie Denis, 24, split up about a month ago, and she is now in a relationship with Bartlett. The Denises had lived together for eight years and have two young children together.

Public defender William Cobb said Denis has been distressed by his wife’s relationship with Bartlett because Bartlett is listed on the state sex offender list and he “does not want Mr. Bartlett around his children.”

According to the state’s sex offender registry, Bartlett was convicted of sexual assault in March 2000 and again in April 2004.

Denis “is fearful of his children’s safety and will do anything he can to keep them near him … in a safe home with him,” Cobb said in court Wednesday.

Just before 9 p.m. Tuesday, Denis drove to the corner of Cochran Road and First Street, near the Pine Crest Trailer Park in Morrisville, to give Stephanie Denis medication for their children.

Stephanie Denis was with Bartlett in his car, waiting for Eric Denis to arrive, the affidavit said.

Denis got out of his pickup truck holding a .308 caliber Winchester Savage rifle in his right hand and yelled at Bartlett to get out of the car, the affidavit said.

Stephanie Denis told police that she ran over to her husband and started wrestling with him for the gun; as she did, she yelled for Bartlett to drive away, the affidavit said.

Stephanie Denis told police that Eric Denis yanked the gun away from her, “kneeled on the pavement and began to raise the gun toward (Bartlett’s) vehicle,” the affidavit said. She ran, heard a shot, and when she looked back, Eric Denis’s rifle was aimed at Bartlett’s vehicle, which was accelerating away, according to the affidavit.

Stephanie Denis said that, while wrestling with her husband for control of the gun, she was struck in the face by the rifle but, and police saw a “fairly large red mark” on her cheek, the affidavit said.

After the incident, Stephanie Denis called Bartlett to make sure he was OK. During the conversation, Bartlett told police that he heard Denis say in the background “I’m going to kill you and your whole … family,” the affidavit said.

Eric Denis told police that, when he arrived to meet his wife, he “got out (of the truck), grabbed his gun and placed a shell into it and fired it off as (Bartlett) drove off,” the affidavit said.

Denis told police that, when he shot the gun, it was facing up in the air at a 45- to 60-degree angle. Denis then went to his brother’s house in Pine Crest Trailer Park, where he dropped off the gun.

He told police he shot the gun to scare off Bartlett, to show “he meant business this time and had previously warned (Bartlett) to stay away from him,” the affidavit said.

Two witnesses told police that Denis got out of his truck and shot a rifle at Bartlett’s car as he drove away, the affidavit said.

When police took Denis to the police station just before 10:30 p.m., his blood-alcohol level was 0.127, the affidavit said; 0.08 is considered proof of intoxication in Vermont.

At Tuesday’s arraignment, Cobb asked Judge Dennis Pearson to release Denis because he is the primary caregiver for his two young daughters, ages 3 and 6.

Denis “did not anticipate Mr. Bartlett being there in the car parked outside,” Cobb told the judge. The shooting “was a reaction to what he saw. He was emotional, yes; he was upset, but he never intended to shoot a person and he could not do so even if he wanted, given the distance and time of day.”

State’s Attorney Joel Page didn’t buy the argument that Denis poses no threat if released.

“We’re very lucky there is not at least one dead person here,” Page told the court. Denis “stated that he wanted to kill Mr. Bartlett and all his family. One could probably say that he was just speaking in anger, or one could say that’s what he intended to do. And by his actions, that seems like what he was intending to do.”

In the end, Judge Pearson ordered Denis held without bail, saying the anger and emotions that “instigated the incident have not gone away … and could fester.”

“Any lapse in any condition and the consequences could be potentially deadly,” the judge said.

Denis showed little emotion as the judge ordered him held without bail. It is not clear what will happen with the Denis’ children.

“It is not this court’s role in this case to determine custody,” Pearson said.

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