A Waterford, Vermont, man was convicted Wednesday in the brutal March, 2012 killing of a beloved St. Johnsbury Academy Science teacher. A jury of six men and six women found Allen Prue guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and attempted kidnapping. The decision followed a 10-day trial and roughly six hours of deliberations.
Allen Prue turned his head from news cameras and gently cried as the jury's foreperson delivered the verdict. There were also tears—of relief—from the family and friends of Melissa Jenkins who had gathered in the courtroom.
"It took a lot of weight off our shoulders," said Linda Gadapee, the aunt of Melissa Jenkins. "It's been a hard two years and I think justice is going to be served."
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Gadapee and other relatives and close friends have been remembering Jenkins as a good mom to a toddler son, and as a smart and motivated science teacher who wanted to continue her education. Loved ones have traveled from across the state to attend the proceedings in Burlington.
While the crime was committed in Caledonia County, the trial took place in Chittenden County, where attorneys believed they'd have an easier time finding potential jurors who had not been exposed to pre-trial news coverage of Jenkins' disappearance, memorial services, and details of the case.
Prosecutors told the jury Prue and his wife Patricia developed an obsession with Jenkins, starting when the snowplow driver did work for Jenkins. That turned to a sexual fascination, Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren argued, that exploded with a plot to trick the mother into leaving her home to help the Prues through a roadside emergency with their car.
After having lured her, the couple launched a blitz attack, Warren said, stun-gunning, beating, and strangling Jenkins to death. They then dumped Jenkins' naked body in the Connecticut River, weighed down with cinder blocks, Warren told the jury. They also tried covering the crime by disposing of evidence, Warren said.
"On behalf of the state police, we're very, very grateful to this jury for their verdict," said Capt. J.P. Sinclair of the Vermont State Police. "This was the culmination of a lot of hard work. And I'm very grateful that these 12 jurors saw this case the way we did."
The decision will bring an automatic appeal.
Prosecutors are turning their attention now to Patricia Prue, who plans to use an insanity defense at her trial. "It's going to be the same evidence and then some," Warren told reporters after the verdict in Allen Prue's trial was announced. "It's a different defendant so there are different fact patterns that have to be addressed with Ms. Prue."
Warren said she believes the conviction of Allen Prue can be "very helpful" in assisting the state seek a conviction of Patricia Prue. She is expected to go on trial in early 2015, Warren told reporters Wednesday.
No sentencing date has been set for Allen Prue. The most serious conviction, first-degree murder, carries a minimum 35-year sentence in Vermont, with a maximum of life in prison.