When Anne Pelletier took the stand at the Rutland County Superior court, she testified that her husband of 33 years, Stephen, was a “good, kind and patient husband, father and grandfather,” as well as a good neighbor in their town of Castleton, Vermont.Vermont State Police
For the family of Michael Wisell, however, those sentiments did not ring true.
According to the Rutland Herald, 62-year-old Stephen Pelletier was just sentenced to ten years in prison for the death of Wisell. Pelletier pleaded no contest to the second-degree murder charge.
The sentencing follows a grisly turn of events in 2014 on the Pelletier family farm.
Pelletier alleged that the 25-year-old Wisell, who was in a relationship with his daughter, Jessica, was abusive towards her. In his courtroom testimony, the father claimed Wisell had introduced his daughter to heroin and threatened to kill her and his family.
The young couple had been living with Jessica’s parents on their farm in Castleton, and as Ann explained before the court, she and her husband were “terrorized” by Wisell. They only agreed to let him move in when they discovered that he and Jessica had been living out of their car and parking at various cemeteries.
Jessica also claimed she was unable to leave the relationship:
“Life in that time span was absolute hell, to be frank,” she said. “It was every day and it was only getting worse. There was no longer any time frame between his outbursts and his physical rage toward me over the smallest things.”
In 2014, then-Governor of Vermont Peter Shumlin, declared Vermont’s heroin epidemic a “full-blown heroin crisis.”
That year, on May 14, Pelletier and Wisell were alone on the farm when Pelletier asked the man if he could help chop and stack wood.
While stacking wood by the farm’s sugarhouse, Pelletier shot Wisell in the back, then the forehead, and slit his throat. Pelletier then proceeded to bury Wisell in a pile of compost manure. The father confessed to the murder six days later.
Pelletier has been incarcerated ever since.
According to the Rutland Herald, assistant prosecuting attorney, John Treadwell, said Pelletier treated Wisell “like he would a cow’s carcass.”
Pelletier’s defense counsel argued their client was hardworking, church-going man determined to protect his family. Brian Marsicovetere said:
“Mr. Pelletier was a peaceful man who was facing a struggle of unbelievable proportion.” Pelletier, he added, had watched his daughter suffer from domestic abuse for more than year. “It ultimately proved too much for him to handle,” Marsicovetere said of Pelletier, adding, “He believed in his core he had to protect his family.”
At the sentencing, Judge Cortland Corsones reiterated the defense’s point to the courtroom:
“It is clear from the evidence that Mr. Pelletier committed the murder because in his mind he believed it was necessary to protect his family,” the judge said. “This was a genuine belief on his part, however, he did have other options.”
But the judge declared that Pelletier shouldn’t have taken matters into his own hands:
“Mr. Pelletier did not have a right to end his life,” Corsones said. “Mr. Pelletier’s action ended any hope that Michael Wisell’s family had that he could turn things around.”
Wisell’s family said their loved one was funny, kind, and deserved the chance to get his life back on track. According to the VT Digger, Pelletier trembled as he apologized to the family in a statement before the court:
“I gave in to anger and fear and did something terrible,” Pelletier told them, his voice breaking as he spoke, his hands shaking as he held a crumpled paper where his thoughts were written down. “I tried very hard, in many ways to reach Michael, and regret that I failed. I’m very sorry.”
Pelletier’s punishment has drawn mixed reactions from those who have come across his story.
Murder suspect Stephen Pelletier has entered the courtroom, awaiting arraignment to begin pic.twitter.com/HmuibbAO3r
— Vanessa Misciagna (@Vanessa_K5) May 21, 2014
Some feel that Pelletier was justified for the murder of the man allegedly abusing his daughter and getting her hooked on drugs.
One commenter wrote in part:
The Vermont criminal justice system has shown a 40+ year track record of failing in it’s mission to protect the law abiding public from predators, including those subject to acts of domestic violence. Therefore it is entirely predictable that someone who sees their own daughter being chronically abused would not have faith in the system to stop the abuse and would feel the need to take matters into their own hands. We excuse acts of homicide for many reasons in Vermont including mental illness, past abuse, traumatic stress and being under the influence of drugs. Apparently a parent having to see their child chronically abused does not measure up as an excuse.
I can’t agree with the way it was handled, but I also have a hard time faulting a man for protecting his family and himself. Bad people tend reap what they so [sic] and if you want to walk around beating on people and threatening people someday you will have to face the consequences. […]
One commenter felt Pelletier did his community a favor:
Sounds like the police handled this case with compassion and fairness. They knew this guy didn’t deserve prison, he did Vermonters a favor by removing a dirtbag heroin addict from our community. A leach of a human being who would have caused much more havoc and destruction. I’m glad he’s gone so my sons and daughters are safer, and I thank this gentleman for sacrificing himself for the good of us all.
This commenter semi-agreed:
On the other hand, the prosecutors ran the risk that a good number of the members of any jury pool would take the view that the deceased was not exactly a sterling citizen, a pillar of the community, considering that he showed up at the farm, turns the daughter into a druggie addict, moves in on the land, threatens the family, beats up the daughter, and brings more dope in. How many jurors would give the farmer dad a free pass, what is known as “jury nullification”? I probably would have. You do that to my daughter, you get run through the wood chipper. Bye-bye.
Many commenters, however, felt that Pelletier’s punishment was too light, as one commenter wrote:
[…] 10 years for brutally murdering someone is far to [sic] light. Especially considering the manner of the crime (trying to cut off his head after he was dead).
Pelletier should have gotten life with no chance for parole.
[…] Pelletier showed extreme rage and and utter lack of respect for life. He was not afraid nor was he compelled to commit such an atrocious crime.
I would call a pre meditated assassination cold blooded murder.
Great job vt- a man who shot someone in the back, then the face, then slit his throat will walk free in 10 years. Though he may walk sooner as many often do.
Petty thiefs [sic] get more time.
Pelletier was officially sentenced to 20 years to life, all suspended on probation with only ten years to be served behind bars.