Prosecution’s physician cites ‘multiple areas of impact’
by Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First
A medical doctor testified in federal court in Burlington Wednesday that the facial injuries sustained by a fill-in postal deliveryman could have been received from a single punch from his assailant.
Dr. Kathleen R. McCubbin, Vermont’s deputy medical examiner, testified on behalf of the defense that a one-punch theory was plausible based on the medical reports and photographs that she reviewed for the postal worker, Paul G. Burch. Burch, 66, maintains he was knocked unconscious on the side of the road by a patron seeking to recover a package in Essex County a year ago.
Trevor Frizzell, 24, of Stratford, N.H. has pleaded not guilty in U.S. District Court in Burlington to a charge of assaulting Burch, a substitute postal worker as he made his deliveries near Maidstone Lake Road in the town of Brunswick in the Northeast Kingdom about 3:15 p.m. Oct. 25, 2022.
Frizzell maintains he acted in self-defense. It remains unclear if he will testify Thursday when the trial goes into day 4.
Federal prosecutors are trying to discredit the signed statement Frizzell provided the Essex County Sheriff’s Department that states he struck Burch once after the postal worker was disrespectful. There are no other known witnesses to the incident, although Burch testified that he saw others collecting their mail from a cluster of boxes as he was filling them.
Essex County Sheriff Trevor Colby, the primary investigator in the case, also took the stand for almost an hour Wednesday afternoon to outline his findings. Colby, who was the sixth and final witness for the prosecution, responded to the scene and also did various follow-up interviews. Colby said he has been trained in Traumatic Brain Injuries and insisted that he take Burch to the hospital.
The defense called McCubbin to the stand to try to offset the testimony of Dr. Alexis Cochran, an emergency room doctor at Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook, N.H., who examined Burch after the incident. McCubbin said a single punch to the mid-face could have been responsible for the injuries, including discoloration in the days that followed.
Cochran testified that she believed Burch was struck more than once. She reported she thought he had “multiple areas of impact.” She said the injuries included a split lip, an abrasion on the right side of his nose and swelling of both cheeks. The jury also learned that a few days later he had a black eye.
She also reported Burch had a concussion and a sore neck, but everybody believes those came from when he hit the ground after he was struck.
Dr. Cochran said she had a clear recollection of the case because it was unusual to her. She said always understood the public was not supposed to mess with postal deliveries and she wonder who would have hit a rural delivery person.
She said when she examined Burch, he seemed like he did not know what happened to him and appeared to be in distress. Burch also reported he thought the room was spinning.
She said Burch reported he had been punched in the face, which was contrary to what Colby reported. The veteran sheriff said Burch reported at the scene he did not remember anything between hearing Frizzell say “You put your hands on me” and waking up later on the ground with a woman assisting him.
McCubbin said she does most of her work determining the cause of deaths while conducting 2,500-plus autopsies, However she testified that she also has been asked to consult about live patients because of her extensive study of injuries and how they are received.
She said gravity and the movement of blood days after the incident could explain the black eye that eventually showed. She also noted that she reviewed 23 pages of medical records and answers provided to medical professionals.
Colby, who began his law enforcement career in 1989 and has been the county sheriff since 2011, said when he arrived about 3:50 p.m. Burch still appeared dazed. He said his office got a direct call about the incident and a 911-call went to Vermont State Police, which asked him to respond.
He reported Burch indicated Frizzell had tried to reach into the delivery Jeep for a signature-required package. Burch had tried to deliver it earlier in the day to Frizzell’s home, but he was not home. Frizzell went to the post office about 3 p.m. to try to retrieve it, but was told by Bethany MacDonald that Burch still had the package on the road. MacDonald checked with the two men and they agreed to meet on the road to pass along the package.
Colby said Burch and Frizzell told different stories about their initial interaction. Burch maintains Frizzell was aggressive and appeared upset. Frizzell in his statement the day after the incident maintained he was calm and polite. Burch said he told Frizzell at least twice he had to use his key to get his package out of his postal box.
It apparently made no sense to a flustered Frizzell because he did not live there.
When Frizzell bent over and reached through the wide open Jeep door to retrieve his package next to the front seat, Burch said he grabbed him by the shoulders and backed him up. Burch said the last thing he remembered was Frizzell saying something about improperly putting his hands on him.
The next thing he remembered was waking up with his head in the lap of Brenda McKenzie, who witnessed the tail end of the incident.
The defense recalled McDonald and also called Postmaster Sabrina McAllister, who fired Burch twice from the postal service. Both testified about work-related issues with Burch, including leaving mail behind at the post office. McAllister said she was able to fired him after only 3 ½ days at another post office because he was on probation for the first 90 days. She said when she became the Groveton, N.H. Postmaster, she had inherited Burch, who had been hired by a predecessor.
McDonald acknowledged that she did hear Burch say he was glad to get past his 90-day probationary period the second time he worked for the post office.
“I can do what I want. They can’t fire me,” he reportedly said.
The final defense witness on Wednesday was Kevin Ridgley, the investigator with the federal defender’s office, who testified about retracing the path by Frizzell to get his package. He said it took him 7 minutes to drive the route and Google lists the distance as 5.4 miles. He said the speed limit for part of the distance is 50 miles per hour.
Frizzell also faces some legal issues in state court. Essex County States Attorney Vince Illuzzi initially charged Frizzell with two felonies: aggravated assault and assault and robbery. Frizzell pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court in Guildhall and those cases are still pending.