Seth Brunell set to stand trial in July on murder charge in Fern Feather’s death

Seth Brunell set to stand trial in July on murder charge in Fern Feather’s death
Seth Brunell set to stand trial in July on murder charge in Fern Feather’s death
Seth Brunell. Vermont State Police photo

A man held without bail in the murder of Fern Feather, a transgender woman from Hinesburg who was stabbed to death two years ago, is set to stand trial in July.

Seth Brunell, 45, was arrested April 12, 2022, on a charge of second-degree murder several hours after Feather was found dead in Morristown.

During a hearing Wednesday in Lamoille County Superior criminal court in Hyde Park, Judge Mary Morrissey told attorneys in the case to be ready for trial in July, with the exact date to be determined. The judge said the trial would begin with jury selection on July 15 or 22.

Interim Lamoille County State’s Attorney Aliena Gerhard, the prosecutor in the case, asked Morrissey to consider delaying that date to sometime in August or September, citing a heavy caseload in her office as well as a staffing crunch.

Defense attorney Jessica Burke, representing Brunell, objected to that request, telling the judge that her client wanted the trial to take place as soon as possible.

The judge sided with Burke and set the trial for July.

Brunell pleaded not guilty to the murder charge in April 2022. He has been held without bail since.

According to investigators, witnesses reported that Brunell and Feather had been spending time together since meeting each other while Brunell was hitchhiking a few days before the killing.

The Lamoille North Supervisory Union called authorities around 8 am on the morning of April 12 to report a car that had been parked in their lot “for some time,” according to charging documents.

Arriving officers found Brunell and Feather, who said they were looking for a place to walk their dogs, the filings stated. About two hours later, Brunell used Feather’s cellphone and called the victim’s friend, telling that person he had killed Feather, according to investigators.

Morristown police officers arrived minutes later and found Feather lying face up and bloody on the side of the road and Brunell sitting in the car.

Brunell, according to the charging documents, told officers that Feather had attacked him after making a sexual advance, which Brunell said he had rejected because “I wasn’t gay.” Officers reported that Brunell had no injuries nor “indications of an altercation,” the filing stated.

Feather’s killing led to an outpouring of grief and condemnation across Vermont, with advocacy groups and the state’s top officials calling for an end to transphobic rhetoric.

The year prior, Gov. Phil Scott signed a law banning the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense, a legal strategy in which suspects justify violence by citing victims’ sexual or gender identity.

In addition to the murder count against him, Brunell was charged with attempting to escape from the St. Johnsbury prison in April 2023. He allegedly used a sheet tied in knots to try to scale a fence, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections.

Burke, Brunell’s attorney, said she would prepare a questionnaire for potential jurors to fill out prior to jury selection, noting the significant amount of press attention the case has drawn.

Both attorneys said they anticipated the trial, including jury selection, would take about a week.

Morrissey asked Burke if a “resolution” to the case might be possible before the trial.

Burke replied “yes,” but added “we don’t have an offer.”

“I asked Ms. Gerhard for an offer the last time we spoke, which was a couple weeks ago,” Burke said. “I kind of laid out what I thought would be a viable resolution, but I haven’t heard back.”

Gerhard said before making any offer, she would meet with Feather’s family to discuss the matter. She said ella was working with her staff to set up such a meeting “soon.”

The judge sets the next hearing in the case for May 28.

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