In Vermont, a husband and wife have been charged with murder of a teacher that has left a small town reeling. They have pleaded not guilty and are being held without bail. NBC's Ron Mott reports.
A couple accused of killing a beloved Vermont school teacher may have had sexual motivations, according to the county’s top prosecutor, and investigators noted finding condoms and wrappers where the body – which showed signs of a severe beating -- was found in a wooded area.
Allen Prue, 30, and his wife, Patricia, 33, were charged Wednesday with second-degree murder in the strangulation death of Melissa Jenkins, a 33-year-old single mother of a 2-year-old boy, Ty. The death of Jenkins, a teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy, has left the community searching for answers.
Caledonia County’s top prosecutor, State’s Attorney Lisa Warren, told the Burlington Free Press that the killing appeared to be “sexually motivated.” When msnbc.com contacted Warren’s office to further elaborate on her comment, a woman who answered the phone directed all calls to the local court office and said the state attorney would not be speaking about the case.
According to an affidavit filed in Vermont Superior Court with the charge sheets, police found condoms and wrappers near where Jenkins was discovered. Lt. Jean Paul Sinclair, the Vermont State Police crime scene search team leader, said Jenkins’ feet were tied with white rope and that she had “severe bruising of her face, neck, upper and lower torso's and extremities indicating that she received a severe beating prior to her death.”
Sinclair also said some of the bruises had “unique patterns” that he described as being “checkerboard." He also noted she had bruises that were rounded, “like that of the toe of a shoe.”
In the police affidavit, authorities also outlined how they traced the phone that was used by the Prues to call Jenkins the night she disappeared, the fact she had called a friend worried about a “weird call” she got “from a girl and guy who used to plow her driveway,” and how the body was found.
Both Prues pleaded not guilty at their arraignment on Wednesday, but Allen Prue’s alleged confession is included in the affidavit. In it, authorities say he told them that he and his wife “got the idea to get a girl” but they didn’t “plan to get one forcefully.” He said his wife called Jenkins and told her their car had broken down and they needed help. When the teacher turned up, Allen Prue said, he strangled her and put her in the backseat of his car; then, his wife also strangled her.
They allegedly took the body to their home, where they stripped Jenkins and put her body – over which they poured bleach -- on a tarp. They also took off their clothes, which they put in the car with the body wrapped in the tarp. They later disposed of the body in the Connecticut River, and burned the clothes, the tarp and a blanket, the affidavit says.
If convicted, the pair face a minimum of 20 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge, but Warren has indicated that she may impose steeper charges, according to the Burlington Free Press.
Jenkins taught science and used to coach basketball at the prestigious St. Johnsbury Academy, which counts former President Calvin Coolidge among its alumni. The academy will hold a fundraiser on Friday to help raise money for the Melissa Jenkins Memorial Trust, The Caledonian-Record reported.
"The news of the recent arrests in the murder of Melissa Jenkins is, of course, good news for all who loved her," academy spokesman Joe Healy said in a statement, according to the newspaper. "We can now turn our full attention to healing from this tragic loss, celebrating Melissa's life and mourning her death."
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