State News

Three accused in Highgate murder; Family says dead man beat, raped alleged killer

By Tom Benton, St. Albans Messenger Staff Writer

HIGHGATE — Carmen Guttilla, 60, of Charles Circle, pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder Monday afternoon, May 7.

The state alleges that Guttilla helped her daughter Erika, 31, kill a man staying in the family’s home last November, 35-year-old Troy Ford, whose remains walkers discovered alongside Darlene Drive on Saturday. She is being held without bail.

Guttilla told police she gave her daughter a gun Gutilla regularly carried while operating the Swanton Liquor Store, and said to Erika, regarding Ford: “He has to go.”

These are Gutilla’s statements to Vermont State Police (VSP) detectives, as reported in VSP Det. Sgt. Angela Baker’s court affidavit.

Gutilla told the detectives that Erika then took the gun into the bedroom where Ford slept, and at around 7 a.m. shot him, while he slept, in the head.

Police arrested Erika and her boyfriend, 28-year-old Corey Cassani, in South Burlington on Route 7 early Tuesday morning, May 8, around 1 a.m.

VSP, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had sought the couple since Monday.

Members of the VSP and FBI, and of the South Burlington and Shelburne police departments, arrested Erika and Cassani.

Erika is incarcerated without the possibility of bail. Cassani is also incarcerated, with $25,000 bail.

Erika is also facing a first-degree murder charge.

Cassani is charged with being an accessory after the fact.

Both were to be arraigned Tuesday.

The investigation
The chain of events leading to the Guttilla arrests began not with the walkers’ discovery last Saturday, May 5, but in April, when VSP Det. Sgt. John MacCallum travelled to the Northwest State Correctional Facility to interview an inmate who said he had information about a homicide.

Edward Bennett, 28, was incarcerated there for violating his probation after a perjury conviction.

Bennett was in a vehicle with Erika and Cassani when police arrested him.

Bennett told MacCallum he’d dated Erika, and that one night, at the Guttilla house, she showed him “a little black gun,” a .380 or a .38 special. Guttilla’s gun, Erika told him.

Bennett said Erika then asked him if he remembered Ford, and that he replied he knew him by other names, “Don” or “Banger.”

Erika said Ford had been at her house the last time Bennett was there.

Bennett asked where he’d been.

Erika laughed, Bennett told MacCallum, and said, “He’s buried in my backyard.”

Bennett told MacCallum Erika brought him to the family’s back porch and showed him a black garbage bin with wheels.

She told Bennett Ford’s body was face down in the garbage bin, feet sticking up.

Bennett said he couldn’t tell. The bin was covered in a black garbage bag, inconspicuous next to a woodpile.

Bennett said Erika encouraged him to touch it, but he didn’t.

“You still don’t believe me?” she asked, according to Bennett.

She took Bennett to her bedroom upstairs.

Erika picked up a towel on the floor.

Bennett quoted her as saying, “This dude’s brains are all over the floor.”

Erika pulled back something on the bed, Bennett said, revealing a large bloodstain and chunks of brain hanging off the side of the bed.

“Ford’s DNA is everywhere,” Bennett told police.

Bennett said Erika told him, “If I could bring him back to life again and kill him again, I would.”

She also told him the murder happened around January or February, Bennett said.

He said Erika called him some time later, after they broke up, to say she was “starting to feel weird about having the body at the house and was freaking out.”

“Corey told Bennett he was watching television at the house when he heard a thunk, thunk, thunk,” MacCallum wrote. “Corey said Erika was pulling the black garbage can through the house with a dead body in it.”

Bennett reported Corey and Erika put Ford’s body in the family’s Chevy van, drove down the road, and dragged the body out of the van, “dude’s head smashing on the concrete everywhere,” Bennett said, “dragging him through the snow, dropping blood everywhere.”

Bennett said Erika’s family was aware of all of this.

A couple days later, he told MacCallum, Bennett went for a ride in the van with Erika’s sister, Melissa, 28.

When he spotted the tarp Erika used to transport Ford’s remains in the van, Bennett said Melissa called Erika stupid, and said, “I will have to get rid of that for her.”

MacCallum reached out to Ford’s family, with the help of the U.S. Marshals Service, after Bennett’s report.

His sister, Raquel, said she hadn’t heard from Ford in a year or so, but she said that was normal.

And there the investigation stayed until May 5.

The body
The area where the body was found, on Darlene Drive, is a wooded area, an overgrown, abandoned playground residents use as a walking area.

One such walker, Richard Ranalli, 32, called the VSP around 2:43 p.m. on Saturday, May 5.

MacCallum was among the VSP who responded to the call.

Baker wrote that the body was partially visible through broken branches.

It appeared to be male because of the presence of an Adam’s apple.

David Greenwood, a local, appeared on the crime scene around 11:45 p.m. that night to tell police he had information about the body.

Greenwood said a mutual friend told him Erika said she had killed someone, shot him in the head in her parents’ house.

The next morning, around 3:56 a.m., VSP troopers watching the scene reported a red Chevy Spark drove by the crime scene, turned around and left. Baker wrote the troopers’ in-car camera recorded the turnaround.

The car was registered to Carmen and Michael Guttilla.

The family picture
VSP detectives executed a search warrant at the Guttilla home yesterday.

There they found Melissa, whom Baker wrote agreed to speak with detectives.

Melissa told detectives Ford’s history with the family.

Basically, she said, Ford was from New York, was Erika’s crack and meth dealer, and regularly physically, including sexually, assaulted Erika.

Dakota, Erika’s 21-year-old brother, expanded on the assault allegations. He said Ford physically and verbally assaulted the entire family.

Dakota told detectives the last time he saw Ford, he was fighting with Erika. Ford struck her with a Hennessy bottle.

Dakota said Ford struck Michael, Erika’s father, and repeatedly raped Erika.

“Dakota said that if Erika did kill Don, it was to protect the family, because they feared that Don would return with gang members to harm them if they upset Don,” Baker wrote. “Dakota said that Erika was not a serial killer, and believed that if she did kill Don, it was because Don pushed her, and everyone else, to the edge.”

Baker wrote Dakota also said he didn’t hear any gunshots, “but advised that he wears a headset while playing video games most of [the] day and [is a] very heavy sleeper.”

Carmen’s arrest
Police trailed Guttilla Sunday evening, starting at 6 p.m., outside North Side Beverage, the store she operates in Swanton.

Guttilla closed the store at 7 p.m., and left in the family’s Chevy van.

VSP followed the van in two unmarked cruisers.

Guttilla stopped at the Tyler Place, in Sheldon, and walked around the property for 15 minutes before getting back in her vehicle, and driving to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington.

VSP officers approached her while she sat in her car, parked in the medical center’s parking garage.
Baker noted Guttilla was crying.

Guttilla told police she knew they had followed her. She said she had stopped at the Tyler Place to think.

Guttilla repeated much of what her children said.

She said Ford was bold, and the family couldn’t get him to leave their home.

He manipulated her husband by providing him with drugs, specifically heroin, Guttilla said.

He stole the family’s money and forced them to rent cars.

Guttilla said Ford physically abused her and Erika, and sexually abused Erika.

Guttilla told detectives she recorded Ford beating Erika in the family’s basement on her phone.

“Carmen advised the family never told anyone what was going on because they were so ashamed,” Baker wrote.

Guttilla told police “the incident” happened before Thanksgiving, in November 2017.

“Either Erika or myself would have done it that night and it took all night and that morning it was done,” Guttilla told the detectives.

She said she couldn’t stand to see her family destroyed any further, or to see Ford further abuse her daughter.

Guttilla said she’d been speaking with Erika when Guttilla removed her gun from its hiding place and set it on her dresser.

Guttilla told detectives Erika insisted on “doing it” herself.

After the shot, Erika came back hysterical.

“I don’t know if I did it,” Guttilla quoted her saying.

Guttilla said she went into the bedroom where Ford had slept.

She “looked at him, and he was gurgling, and then he was gone.”

Guttilla said only she and Erika knew what had happened.

She and Erika rolled Ford’s remains in a rug and put him in the six-foot garbage can on the family’s porch.

The remains stayed there ‘til January.

Guttilla “advised that she was not a violent person, but stated that if Erika had not shot [Ford] that morning, she would have.

“She advised one of them was going to get that man, referring to [Ford], out of their lives.”

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