The high-profile murder trial of Allen Prue started Wednesday in Vermont's largest city. Prue is accused of killing Melissa Jenkins of Danville in March of 2012. Jenkins was a popular science teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy. Although the crime took place in Vermont's rural Northeast Kingdom, in Caledonia County, the trial is being held in Burlington, where Prue's defense team sought a jury less likely to have read about the case or have connections to it.
Wednesday, Jenkins' former boyfriend, Randy Rathburn, who said he remained a dear friend of Jenkins even after their romantic relationship ended, testified about the night Jenkins told him she got a strange phone call from her former snowplow contractors. It was a cry for help, Rathburn explained, that Jenkins answered the night she vanished.
"She said she was a little reluctant," Rathburn testified, adding that Jenkins told him who she was going to help.
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Earlier, in her opening statement to jurors, Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren said Allen Prue and his wife Patricia tricked Jenkins with a bogus story of a broken-down car, then took her because they wanted "a girl to have fun with."
Warren said the Prues strangled the mother, beat her, then dumped her body--doused with bleach and weighed down with cinder blocks--in the Connecticut River.
"After all the evidence is presented, ladies and gentlemen, I will be back to speak with you at the conclusion, and ask you to return guilty verdicts on all of the counts in this case," Warren said in her address to the jury.
Allen Prue was one of those plow contractors, Warren explained, and Jenkins had held onto his business card from a past winter when he worked for the teacher. That, Warren said, provided Rathburn information to share with police.
Prosecutors showed the jury video of Jenkins' abandoned car, taken from the dashboard camera of a Vermont State Police trooper's cruiser. In the video, Rathburn and his roommate could be seen speaking with troopers about what they found when they went to check out why Rathburn had never heard back from Jenkins after she left to help the Prues with their car.
Trooper Chris Pilner of the Vermont State Police testified that Jenkins' son showed him how a man hurt his mommy, demonstrating how the 2-and-a-half-year-old boy demonstrated for him how a man grabbed his mother's neck and aggressively forced it down.
"Allen Prue is not guilty," defense attorney Bob Katims told the jury in his opening statement to the trial.
Katims said the murder was all the doing of Prue's wife, Patricia. She was the mastermind, Katims said, and was suffering from multiple personality disorder. Katims said Patricia Prue killed Jenkins in a jealous rage.
"Patricia Prue is a deeply disturbed person," Katims told the jurors. "The evidence will show that Patricia Prue admits strangling Ms. Jenkins to death, and has said Allen Prue didn't do it."
Patricia Prue is being tried separately. Her legal team plans to use an insanity defense, the Associated Press has reported.
The trial for Allen Prue is expected to last several weeks.