By DAVE COLLINS and DENISE LAVOIE Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – Circumstantial evidence against Nathan Carman had been in plain sight for years before his startling indictment and arrest this month on allegations he killed his mother at sea off New England in a conspiracy aiming to inherit millions of dollars.
Federal prosecutors in Vermont are not commenting on the timing of their decision to take the case to a grand jury, and the indictment offers no clues or new information about the case, which included a dramatic rescue in sea and the suspicious death of two members. from a wealthy New England family.
Legal experts and other law enforcement officials say the delay in taking criminal action could be the result of several factors, including the fact that his mother and boat were never found.
“It’s very difficult to charge federally with murder…so I think what the government has been doing for the last six years is building his case to charge him with mail fraud and wire fraud” said former federal and state public defender Jessica Brown. who is now an assistant professor at Vermont Law School.
The grand jury indictment charges Carman, 28, of Vernon, Vermont, with murder and fraud in the murder of his mother, Linda Carman, on a fishing trip that began in Rhode Island. Carman made international headlines when he was found alone in a life raft near Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, eight days after he and his mother left port.
The indictment also charges him with the fatal shooting of his millionaire grandfather, John Chakalos, in 2013 in Connecticut, but does not charge him with the murder. He has repeatedly denied any involvement in the two deaths.
Federal prosecutors say their death paved the way for Carman to inherit about $7 million – his mother’s share of Chakalos’ estate. The inheritance remains tied to Connecticut probate court, where his mother’s three sisters seek to prevent Carman from receiving money from his grandfather’s estate.
Seven of the eight counts in the indictment relate to what prosecutors allege were fraudulent efforts to obtain money from his grandfather’s estate or insurance companies. The other count accuses Carman of having killed his mother.
Vermont U.S. Attorney Nikolas Kerest, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on the case.
Federal Public Defender Michael Desautels, whose office is defending Carman, also declined to comment on the indictment.
“His mindset is solid and he knows he has a good team of defense attorneys working for him,” Desautels said.
Some law enforcement officials who participated in the investigation said the indictment may be the result of new evidence that is not being disclosed. Or, perhaps, federal prosecutors in Vermont were more aggressive in gathering all the evidence collected by a variety of local, state and federal agencies and presenting it to a grand jury.
“One of the issues is jurisdiction, especially when you’re crossing state lines, and who has the ability to bring it all together under one roof,” said Donald Melanson, police chief for Windsor, Connecticut. , where Chakalos was killed. “And I think that’s why, quite rightly, the US Attorney’s office took this and took responsibility for it and put it all together.”
“When you look at the big picture…it gives me a very clear picture of how everything is tied together to achieve his (Carman’s) goals,” he said.
In 2014, before Melanson joined the department, Windsor police drafted an arrest warrant charging Carman with murder in his grandfather’s death, but a prosecutor refused to sign it and demanded more information. , according to a search warrant for Linda Carman’s home in Middletown, Connecticut. , obtained by police after he disappeared at sea. Neither state prosecutors nor federal prosecutors in Connecticut or Rhode Island have ever brought charges against Carman.
The case has gone cold. Then came the ill-fated fishing trip, which raised investigators’ suspicions about Carman. But the investigation into Linda Carman’s disappearance has also not resulted in an arrest.
In 2017, investigators began keeping tabs on a lawsuit filed in federal court in Providence, Rhode Island, where insurers and Carman were suing over his dismissed $85,000 claim for the loss of his boat, named the “Chickenpox”. The insurance case tied all the evidence together and may have spurred a new effort to charge Carman, current and former investigators said.
Lawyers for the insurers presented a case accusing Carman of conspiring and covering up the two murders, using findings from the police investigation and information they themselves obtained, including:
— A month before the Chakalos shooting, Carman bought a rifle that can fire the same bullets used in the shooting. Carman invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination during a deposition when questioned about the rifle, which was never found.
— Carman destroyed his laptop hard drive and a GPS device in his truck after his grandfather died. He took fifth again when asked why.
– Prior to the 2016 fishing trip, Carman modified the boat in ways that contributed to its sinking, the judge ruled in the Rhode Island case in dismissing Carman’s insurance claim. Witnesses said he removed two stabilizer trim tabs from the stern, near the ship’s waterline, leaving holes which he attempted to seal with an epoxy stick.
– A tidal expert testified that the life raft could not have floated to Martha’s Vineyard from where Carman claimed the boat sank, but in fact would have drifted in the opposite direction. Lawyers for Carman said it was his first time using sea charts and he was confused about the location of the boat.
After his grandfather’s death, Carman inherited approximately $550,000.
In late summer 2016, prosecutors said Carman, who had moved from Connecticut to Vermont, was unemployed and short of funds after quickly spending most of that money, much of which he spent for his new home.
It was then that he arranged the fishing trip with his mother with the intention of killing her, authorities said. The relationship between mother and son was strained, but fishing was one way they could still connect.
Carman remains detained while his case is pending.
Federal prosecutors have argued in court papers that he should remain locked up pending trial because he poses a flight risk and a danger to the community.
Prosecutors cited the violence and planning involved in both murders and his apparent lack of connection to his community – a factor in bail arguments. They said he had little personal interaction with others, having alienated his family because of his conduct.
They also said he cut off the mental health treatment he received from infancy until he was 17. They wrote that Carman was diagnosed with mood and potential psychotic disorders in 2011 and had a history of hostility and aggression.
Carman and those close to him also said he has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism that can be characterized by social awkwardness and repetitive behavior, but is not associated with an increased likelihood of violence.
Carman said he was misunderstood and an easy target for police because he had Asperger’s Syndrome.
Lavoie reported from Richmond, Virginia. Associated Press writers Lisa Rathke in Montpelier, Vermont, and Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, as well as AP researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York, contributed to this report.