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Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Allen and Patricia Prue Murder Case: Melissa Jenkins' Cold-Blooded Killing

     St. Johnsbury, Vermont is a town of 6,200 in the northeast part of the state 40 miles south of the Canadian border. It is home to St. Johnsbury Academy, the prestigious prep and boarding school established in the 1840s. Until recently, this was not a place where people got murdered.

     Melissa Jenkins had been a science teacher and the girl's basketball coach at St. Johnsbury Academy since 2004. The 33-year-old single mother was completing her Masters Degree in Education and was employed part time as a waitress at Creamery Restaurant in nearby Danville where she had worked 12 years.

     On Sunday evening, March 25, 2012, 30-year-old Allen Prue and his wife Patricia, a couple from Waterford, Vermont, were riding about in their car. Allen made his living driving around the area delivering the local newspaper. In the winter, he plowed driveways. Two years before, he had plowed Melissa Jenkins' driveway, but after he had asked her out a couple of times, she discontinued his service. In the fall of 2011, Prue had showed up at her house drunk and asked if he could resume plowing her driveway. She declined his offer.

     As Prue and his 33-year-old wife drove around that evening, he got the idea "to get a girl." The girl he had in mind was Melissa Jenkins. To lure the intended victim out of her home, Patricia Prue called Jenkins and said that she and her husband had broken down near her house. Could she give them a lift?

     Before Jenkins left her house to help people she barely knew, she called her former boyfriend to report she had just received a "weird call from a girl and guy who used to plow her driveway." In case something happened to her, Jenkins wanted someone to know where she had gone. After speaking to her ex-boyfriend, Jenkins put her 2-year-old son Ty in the car and drove off to help the Prues.

     The moment Jenkins climbed out of her car, Allen Prue, with the school teacher's son looking on, grabbed and started strangling her. He pushed the stunned woman into his vehicle where, as he drove to his house in Waterford, Patricia Prue continued choking the victim "to make sure she wasn't breathing." The Prues left the Jenkins boy, unharmed, behind in his abducted mother's car.

     The Prues carried Jenkins (she may have been alive but unconscious) into their house where they removed her clothing, repeatedly stomped on her, then laid her badly bruised corpse onto a tarp. After pouring bleach on her body, the Prues carried the tarp-wrapped victim back to their vehicle, then drove to a spot along the Connecticut River near Barnet, Vermont. At the river's edge, in a wooded area, they tossed Jenkins' body, tied to cinder blocks to hold it down, into shallow water.

     Back in Waterford, the murderers burned the tarp, Jenkins' clothing, and the garments they had been wearing.

     Melissa Jenkins' former boyfriend, two hours after she had notified him about the "weird call" she had just received, tried but failed to get back in touch with her by phone. He drove to her house, and nearby, found Jenkins' idling SUV with her 2-year-old boy asleep inside. Next to her car, he found one of Jenkins's shoes. Fearing foul play, he called the police.

     An investigator with the Vermont State Police traced the "weird call" Jenkins had received back to the Prues. Confronted by the authorities, Allen Prue confessed.

     On Monday afternoon, March 26, 2012, the day after the murder, the police found Jenkins' body along the river about ten miles from her house. At the scene, officers recovered condoms and condom wrappers. The victim's feet had been tied with a length of white rope. Bruising of her face, neck, torso, arms, and legs suggested that the Prues had given Jenkins a severe beating. (Some or all of these wounds may have been postmortem.)

     Charged with first-degree murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy to commit murder, the Prues were held without bond at the Northeast Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. They pleaded not guilty. The medical examiner ruled Melissa Jenkins' death as "homicide by strangulation."

     The Allen Prue murder trial, following a change of venue, got underway in Burlington, Vermont on October 7, 2014. In her opening statement, Caledonia County state's attorney Lisa Warren told the jurors that the Prues had been engaging in a sexual relationship with a neighbor and wanted somebody they could "play with" on the night of Melissa Jenkins' murder.

     Defense attorney Robert Katims, in his opening remarks, blamed the murder on the defendant's wife. "Patricia Prue strangled the victim," attorney Katims said, "because in her crazy, twisted mind she had become obsessively jealous of Ms. Jenkins. The evidence will show that Patricia Prue strangled Melissa Jenkins without telling Allen she was going to do it, without planning it with him, and without Allen Prue agreeing in any way, shape or form with the idea of harming Ms. Jenkins in any way."

     The defense attorney informed the jurors that Patricia Prue suffered from multiple personality disorder and had complete control over her weak-minded husband who quit school at age 16. It was the defendant's low I.Q. that allowed detectives to break him down in a seven hour interrogation. The defendant's murder confession, according to attorney Katims, had been coerced and was therefore false.

     Following the testimony of the medical examiner, prosecutor Warren played the audio recording of the defendant's confession to the jury. She next called Patricia Prue to the stand who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. A few days later, a Vermont state detective testified that Patricia Prue had used her laptop computer in 2011 to research tips on how to kidnap and rape a girl without getting caught. A search of the defendant's computer revealed that it had been used to shop for a stun gun. (The Vermont State Chief Medical Examiner had testified that a stun gun had been used on the victim the night she died.)

     On October 22, 2014, following nine days of testimony and the attorneys' closing arguments, the case went to the jury of six men and six women. After deliberating six hours the jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder and the other charges. While the murder verdict called for a minimum mandatory 35-year sentence, the judge sentenced Allen Prue to life behind bars without the possibility of parole.

     On February 12, 2015, Patricia Prue pleaded guilty to the charge of first-degree murder. The next day, at a sentencing proceeding that had been initially scheduled as a mental competency hearing on her former not guilty by reason of insanity plea, Prue apologized to Jenkins' family. She said she wished she had received the mental health help she so desperately needed. "I'm not sorry we were caught," she said to thirty family members present in the courtroom. "I am sorry that it ever happened."

     Patricia Prue's attorney, Brian Marsicovetere, used the sentencing hearing to call for more support for mental health services in the state. He said his client suffered from post-traumatic stress and various personality disorders. She also had panic attacks as a result of intense anxiety.

     Caledonia County State's Attorney Lisa Warren told the judge that Patricia Prue had spent months plotting Melissa Jenkins' murder. "The couple stalked Jenkins, acquired a stun gun and bought a prepaid cellphone to call the victim and ask for help," she said.

     The judge sentenced Patricia Prue to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

   

     

4 comments:

  1. I wonder why not First Degree? The intent was there. Just curious...

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  2. Ken,

    In Vermont, first degree murder is defined as: "Murder by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by wilful, deliberate and premeditated killing, or committed in perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate arson, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery or burglary.

    Good question.

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  3. We should all listen to taht inside voice, the gut feeling when something is wrong. This crime was so senseless.

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  4. Jim, Are you going to "write the book"? The trial is underway now in Chittenden County, Burlington, VT and is proving to have interesting legal maneuvers.

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