2009-02-19 / Front Page

Rodgers Gets 30-70 Years In Maiming of Ex-Wife

By Cornelia Cesari

Rodgers Gets 30-70 Years In Maiming of Ex-Wife By Cornelia Cesari

Herbert Rodgers, 53, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Orange County District Court in Chelsea to a charge of maiming and was sentenced to serve a term of 30 to 70 years.

Vermont State Police called Rodgers’ crime “the most heinous act of domestic violence in the state.” In June of 2007, Rodgers broke into his estranged wife’s home in Thetford, beat her savagely with a baseball bat, and then sprayed her with industrial strength lye.

She suffered a broken arm, fractured eye socket and severe burns over 80-90% of her body. After months of hospitalization and over 40 surgeries, Carmen Tarleton, 40, is still blind, disfigured, and requires daily assistance and wound care.

A veteran officer with years of working grisly homicides, Detective Lieutenant J. P. Sinclair, Commander of VSP’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation B Troop shook his head in somber reflection outside the courthouse following the proceedings.

“Even amongst murders, this is about the worst I’ve seen,” he remarked. He is grateful—and clearly surprised—that this didn’t turn out as another homicide after all, marveling at Tarleton’s strength. He made reference to her readiness to testify as soon as her body would allow her to.

Indeed, the courtroom was silenced respectfully at the appearance of Tarleton’s tiny, shuffling frame, guided to the stand by her sister, Kesstan Blandin,. Twenty months after the attack, her head and neck are still swathed in white bandages. A visible patch of hair juts up beside scarred scalp. Tarleton’s features hint at a previous facial form as if viewed through a steamy mirror.

Iron Will

But when Carmen Tarleton speaks, the strength of her voice and clarity of her words reveal the iron will that caused her to defy the odds and survive.

Tarleton answered questions of state’s attorney Robert DiBartolo about her past, her childhood in the Upper Valley and her career in nursing. After her divorce, she moved with her daughters to California, where she met Rodgers; they married in 2001 and moved back to Vermont.

The attack occurred when they had been separated for about four months. During their marriage, Herbert Rodgers had never physically assaulted her or her daughters, was always gainfully employed, and had no substance abuse issues Tarleton said. Rodgers has divulged that he mistakenly suspected Tarleton of being with another man and was planning to attack him, and also cut his own throat, when he broke into the home.

When asked about the impact of her injuries on her life, Tarleton maintained a practical tone. “It’s limited me—” she said, with understatement. She explained that she still needs daily wound care on her head and back, from a visiting nurse or family member. She can’t yet cook or clean. She expects to need some assistance for the rest of her life.

This summer, she underwent a cornea transplant in her left eye. It gives her some vision, she says, at a range of about 18 inches. She can’t see details and can’t read, but she can see a little, on a good day. Then, with a wry chuckle, “But not today.”

And pain? Yes, there is pain every day: physical and emotional as well: “that goes without saying.” But the hardest part, she said—and this is where her voice faltered—“I can’t express how it feels to be called ‘unrecognizable’ and I can’t see it. You hear ‘These scenes are graphic; viewers beware’ and they’re talking about me. And I can’t see it.”

Rodgers Speaks

For his part, Rodgers never directly apologized to his ex-wife. He stood, shackled, and turned to the family before his sentence was read. He apologized to the girls, however.

“When I kicked in the [bathroom] door and as I hit one of you—I’m sorry, that was not my intention. I would never hurt either of you.” To Carmen, he simply said, “You didn’t deserve it. I can’t tell you why. I’m not going to get into it. I hope you can get along.”

Plea Agreement

All were in agreement in Court that day that the sooner Rodgers was sentenced, the better. Both attorneys, the judge and Rodgers himself all expressed a desire for Tarleton and her family to be able to continue their lives, to gain some sense of “closure” and move on with the healing process. For that reason, the plea bargain joint request invoked the relatively rare statute of “maiming,” which can carry a sentence of seven years to life.

The sentence requested was 30 to 70 years, all to be served.

“My client has no illusions about the meaning of this sentence,” stated his attorney, Kevin Griffin. “He understands that he will spend the rest of his natural life in prison.”

Rodgers has an unspecified medical condition which makes it highly unlikely that he will be alive in 30 years. As for the maximum sentence, 70 years was chosen because any conviction with a life term triggers an automatic appeals process and no one wished to delay the closure of the case.

“He asks that you impose a sentence today,” relayed Griffin, “so that everyone can get on with their lives.”

Judge Mary Miles Teachout agreed.

“This was truly a crime of horror,” she declared. “It involved planning and preparation, entering a person’s home while sleeping, inflicting pain and suffering over a long period of time.” Additionally, she remarked, “Torturing a mother in front of her children is bound to produce lifelong effects.” Tarleton’s daughters, now 14 and 16, witnessed part of the attack but escaped the house to summon help.

Judge Teachout also touched upon a broader impact.

“Everyone in the community feels a bit unsafe that something like this can happen in the middle of the night to someone who doesn’t deserve it…The sentence must send a message to society that you cannot do something like this and live any kind of a normal life afterwards.

“As punishment and means of incapacitation, it is important that he be separated from society for the rest of his life,” the judge continued.

Finally, Judge Teachout said that the fact that the plea agreement was supported by Ms. Tarleton and her family was important to her.

Tarleton’s Future

After the sentencing, Tarleton agreed that it helped bring a sense of closure to her and her family.

“It helps me in that I don't have to think about or worry about or be concerned where he is or where he’s gonna be,” she said. “It’s over and that way where I can start looking forward to other projects and other things to do and get on with my life.”

One might wonder what the future holds for Carmen Tarleton. She says she hopes to have a synthetic cornea implanted in her right eye as well. Perhaps she can see her daughters’ faces. She reports that the counseling is helping, and hopes for just a couple more years of that.

She has also been thinking about work, maybe part time at Hitchcock Medical Center where she worked before. She reports that they’ve been “very good” to her, as has the Association for the Blind, and maybe they can do something for her.

“I’m hoping I can be productive,” Tarleton relates, “regardless of my eyesight.”

As the small crowd dispersed from the courthouse, heads shaking in wonder and faces stained with tears, it seemed Carmen Tarleton has unwittingly been productive already. She has, like it or not, served—and continues to serve—as a model of strength and an inspiration to many she will never know.

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