The Temple family (left) in happier times, before Kevin Temple was allegedly shot by neighbor Robert Morrell (right).
By Michael Bielawski
A Montgomery man who police say was shot by his neighbor in a May 4 property dispute is facing heart surgery. Months later, he and his family remain afraid to stay in their own home, and have moved seven times. Meanwhile the charged shooter is free at home – albeit under curfew.
Robert Morrell, 77, pleaded not guilty in Franklin County Superior Criminal Court in May to shooting his neighbor, Kevin Temple, 54. Both lived on Highland Springs Road in the Northeast Kingdom town of Montgomery.
Temple has had numerous health problems as a result of being shot, including multiple bullet fragments still in his body. His wife Mary Temple spoke with VDC last week.
“No he’s not recovered, he has a lot of physical problems,” she said. “We just found out this past Thursday he has to have heart surgery, and this is all due to the shooting. … And we have nowhere to live, right now we are living on the grace of friends, thank goodness. But we’re running out of that.”
Later she added, “We are living day-by-day, we are hoping to find a roof to put over our heads for the next night.”
As reported by VDC on May 5, Vermont State Police arrested Morrell on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon following the shooting. During an argument, Morrell produced a .22-caliber revolver and shot Temple one time in the torso. Morrell was taken into custody and ordered to be released on a citation to appear in court the next day, where he pleaded innocent. Temple remains hospitalized at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, where he is undergoing treatment for serious but non-life-threatening injuries.
The alleged shooter was only briefly in custody
She said the time that Morrell spent in custody for the shooting was only a few hours.
“After he shot Kevin they did arrest him, from our understanding he was in custody for about two hours before they released him a $1,000 cash bail,” Temple said. “They never did inform us that they released him either so thank goodness we already made a plan to leave.”
Judge Martin Maley let Morrell go back to his home on conditions requested by Franklin County State’s Attorney John Lavoie. Those include that Morrell must avoid Temple and keep to a 24-hour curfew at home with an exception for medical needs. Also when he’s driving he’s not supposed to stop and he should not have firearms.
She noted there seems to be a pattern in the state of letting those caught up in violence back onto the streets.
“There’s been a lot of shootings in Vermont since that’s happened and it seems like this is the ‘catch and release state’. I don’t know why he was released so quickly is the thing. … It doesn’t make any sense, something needs to change.”
She added, “The judge never found out what was going on, he had no chance to find out the story and the why. The judge never talked to us and at his arraignment, we were not allowed to say anything.”
Still, the Morrells felt staying at their home was too dangerous as Morrell must continue to pass by on their private road to get to his residence.
“They told his son-in-law to take his guns but they never went up there to make sure that there is no guns in the house,” she said.
The victim’s family struggling to sell their home
The Temples are still trying to sell the home they abandoned and they have already moved seven times. They are currently housed by friends but they will need to move again shortly.
She said they are having trouble selling the house because according to their realtor about a third of the people who look at it back out from any deal once they learn about the incident with the neighbor.
Tensions before the shooting
She said that during the year prior to the shooting, there was increasing tension because the neighbor and his son-in-law had cut trees on their property and there were disputes regarding the property lines. She said at the time they chose not to make a big deal about it.
“Well whatever, we just want to be peaceful neighbors,” she said. “So this started back then and we had called the state police, we had called the game warden, and nobody would help us.”
She said they were told that it was a civil matter but they were never given guidance on how to handle that.
State help limited
Mary Temple said there were other problems. It took the state five months to reimburse the family for their U-Haul costs, which was paid by its Victim Compensation program. She also had to quit her job in order to take care of her husband and the state only partially covered that lost pay.
She said there is no actual surveillance of Morrell’s activities.
“The detective on the case told us that it takes somebody from the town, we have to monitor him, the townspeople,” she said.
Family friend offers kind words and frustration
Keith Longmore who is a family friend with the Temples spoke with VDC on Wednesday morning and he noted how frustrating the situation has become.
“They are just nice people, everybody in town knows them and supports them,” he said. “They are working class people and it’s just another case of justice going wrong. I don’t understand how anyone can be shot and then be told they have to leave because the person who shot them is coming back.”
The author is a reporter for the Vermont Daily Chronicle