By Alan J. Keays/VTDigger
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — A jury on Friday, Oct. 28 found a Ludlow man not guilty in the death of an infant more than four years ago.
Tyler Pollender-Savery, 26, had been charged in December 2018 with second-degree murder in the death almost a year earlier of 11-month-old Karsen Rickert, the child of his then-girlfriend, Abigail Wood. The trio lived together in Ludlow.
The 12-person jury returned its verdict after about two hours of deliberation Friday, following a five-day trial. Jurors listened to four days of testimony in Windsor County Superior criminal court in White River Junction. The second-degree murder charge carried a penalty of 20 years to life in prison. The jury could have also considered involuntary manslaughter, which carries a penalty of not less than one year and up to 15 years in prison.
“Obviously, we’re pleased,” David Sleigh, Pollender-Savery’s attorney, said following the verdict. “This has been a four-year ordeal based on really skinny evidence and some inadequate pathology.”
Asked what he believed caused Karsen’s death, Sleigh replied, “This is one of those cases we’ll just never know. It’s a sudden, unexplained infant death.”
Assistant attorneys general Robert Lees and Franklin Paulino, who served as co-counsel for the prosecution, declined comment following the verdict.
Vermont Attorney General Susanne Young issued a statement later Friday afternoon thanking the jury for its service and expressing disappointment that the prosecution was not able to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
“Our thoughts are with 11-month-old Karsen Rickert’s family during this time,” Young said.
Friends and family of Pollender-Savery at the courthouse said they were satisfied with the verdict. His grandmother, Lillian Handren, described it as “justice,” while his mother, Jeri Savery, said, “Tyler loved that little boy.”
But Pamela Howe, Abby Wood’s mother and Karsen’s grandmother, expressed profound disappointment.
“I think it’s terrible,” she said. “I just don’t think the verdict was very fair.”
Pollender-Savery did not go free following the verdict. Instead, he was taken into custody by sheriff’s deputies, who led him through the back of the courtroom, as a result of a detainer stemming from a 2019 federal gun charge.
Several firearms were seized from Pollender-Savery’s Ludlow home as police were investigating Karsen’s death, leading to a criminal complaint of being a drug user in possession of a firearm.
Sleigh said he expected Pollender-Savery would be held until arraignment or dismissal of that case.
The prosecution said during the murder trial that it was a unique case based, at least in part, on the “process of elimination,” since only Pollender-Savery and Wood were in the Ludlow home on Route 100 when Karsen died.
During closing arguments Friday morning, Paulino told jurors that the state’s evidence showed Karsen’s injuries could “only be explained at the hands of another.”
There was no evidence that the child’s mother would have hurt him, Paulino said, leaving Pollender-Savery as the “only person to have the opportunity, the intent, the plan and the motive to cause great bodily harm to Karsen Rickert.”
Sleigh contended throughout the trial that the prosecution’s theory was based on “pure conjecture” with “scant” evidence connecting his client to Karsen’s death.
“The state’s case apparently rests on the following premise: that proximity equals guilt,” Sleigh said at one point during the trial.
Among more than a dozen witnesses called by the prosecution were Dr. Jennie Duval, New Hampshire’s chief medical examiner, who had ruled Karsen’s death a homicide by asphyxiation, by strangulation or smothering. She performed the autopsy because Karsen died at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, where he had been rushed to from Springfield Hospital.
The defense called three witnesses as part of its case. Pollender-Savery opted not to testify.
Wood found Karsen unresponsive in his bed on the morning of Jan. 11, 2018. Earlier, she had noticed that Pollender-Savery was no longer in bed with her and saw him in Karsen’s room down the hall, she told authorities.
The prosecution argued that Pollender-Savery was upset that Wood was about to end their relationship to return to a previous relationship with Karsen’s father, Nicholas Rickert. Pollender-Savery, according to the prosecution, saw Karsen as the link that had brought Wood and Rickert back together. The prosecution claimed that jealousy fueled Pollender-Savery to kill Karsen.
“Eliminate the baby, eliminate Nick,” Paulino told jurors during his closing arguments.
Wood, the prosecutor added, had no motive to harm Karsen. “Karsen was her world,” Paulino said. “She couldn’t wait to be a mom.”
Sleigh said during the trial that the state lacked the evidence to convict his client, or even prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Karsen’s death was a homicide.
“There is no record of evidence of any ill will from Tyler toward him, nor any malevolent feeling toward Ms. Wood’s contact with Nick prior to Karsen’s death,” the defense attorney said.