Jury finds Vermont man not guilty in 2017 fatal shooting

Published: Mar. 29, 2019 at 10:37 AM EDT
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Not guilty. Jurors acquitted a man from Georgia, Vermont, Friday of all charges in the 2017 shooting of two men.

Ethan Gratton, 29, admits to shooting David Hill and Mark Brito. Hill died at the scene and Brito was seriously injured but survived.

After an eight-day trial with dozens of witnesses and experts called to testify, the jury reached their verdict early Friday afternoon.

The jurors deliberated for a total of about six hours on Thursday evening and Friday morning. Friday morning, they asked the court to replay testimony from a Central Vermont Medical Center neurologist. Not long after, the verdict was in.

"We find Ethan Gratton not guilty," Vermont Superior Court Judge Gregory Rainville read.

More than two years after the shooting, the jury acquitted Ethan Gratton of second-degree murder, attempted second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and attempted voluntary manslaughter.

"Obviously, we are relieved for this verdict," defense attorney Kelly Green said.

Green presented multiple witnesses and out-of-state experts to convince the jury Gratton acted in self-defense.

In January 2017, David Hill, 57, and Mark Brito, 27, used Gratton's driveway to turn around a skidder. Police say an argument ensued and Hill punched Gratton twice in the face, knocking out his tooth, breaking his nose and giving him a concussion.

Gratton says he blacked out and doesn't remember pulling a gun from his sweatshirt pocket and shooting the two men. Hill was shot five times. Brito was shot once in the head.

The state says Gratton told a neighbor he went inside his home after the assault to get a gun to shoot the two men. Prosecutors say the time between Gratton getting punched and pulling the trigger was enough time to form the intent for murder.

"In my profession the cases that go to trial are the problem cases," Franklin County State's Attorney Jim Hughes said.

Hughes says this was a complicated case. He believes testimony from a neurologist led to the verdict.

"I very much believe that Ethan was in an altered mental state at the time he killed Mr. Hill," Dr. Deborah Black testified Wednesday.

Black testified about the impact a concussion would have had on Gratton in those few moments before the shooting. To convict Gratton, the state had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Gratton did not act in self-defense and he could form the intent to kill.

"At the moment of the blow there is global disruption of brain process," Black said.

Green spoke on behalf of the Gratton family, saying, "Our hope is that with the conclusion of this trial, everyone involved will have space and time to continue healing."

Green said the Gratton family was thankful for the support the community has shown them, as well as the support for both the family and friends of David Hill and Mark Brito.

Outside the courthouse, survivor Mark Brito and his family embraced, coming to terms with a verdict they didn't want to hear.

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