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Poor choices, missed chances, a life in trouble

by Jodie Tillman Tuesday, Jul. 08, 2003 at 1:55 PM

Eric Daley, who was fleeing a traffic stop with more than two pounds, struck and killed trooper Johnson. Ironically it was not the state but Daley, described as a libertarian, who repeatedly failed to accept responsibility for his actions.

Poor choices, missed chances, a life in trouble -- Man accused of killing trooper has lengthy record

Jodie Tillman, Valley News, July 6, 2003

Eric Daley's life has been documented in police records, but friends say there is more to him. Eric Daley was a blond, blue-eyed teenager when his life started playing out in police reports and court records.

At 17, he got caught with a marijuana pipe in his car, shoved his mother and lied to the Jaffrey town clerk about where he lived. At 18, he violated a restraining order that his mother got to keep him away from her. At 19, he had drugs in his car in Nashua and led the Springfield, Vt., police on a car chase.

And by the time he was 20, he violated his probation by not showing up at a required meeting with a community reparative board. His frustrated probation officer told him in a letter, "there is nothing more the board can do for you."

Court records in New Hampshire and Vermont tell part of the story of the 23-year-old who now stands accused of running over a Vermont state trooper: a young man who was offered chances by the legal system that he sometimes took - and sometimes didn't.

"This kid didn't slip through the cracks," said Jerry Day, a Vermont Department of Corrections official who oversees the reparative program in Windsor County. "Any individual who is willing to help himself can succeed. In this instance, it's a sad, sad failure. I believe it's of his own making."

Daley is being held at the prison in St. Albans, Vt., on charges that he killed a Vermont state trooper in a June 15 hit-and-run on Interstate 91 in Norwich. Sgt. Michael Johnson of Bradford, Vt., had laid out tire spikes to stop Daley, who was leading two other troopers on a high-speed chase following a traffic stop, according to records in Vermont District Court in White River Junction.

In those court documents, the police allege that Daley, who they say was carrying more than two pounds of marijuana and a trace of cocaine, swerved to avoid the spikes and struck Johnson, who was running for cover. Daley fled and was caught in Pennsylvania two days later after a massive manhunt. He has pleaded innocent to all charges in connection with the incident.

"We could see he was headed down the wrong path," said Dennis Capron, the father of Daley's friend, Elvis Capron of Seattle. But Dennis Capron said he believes Daley's criminal history didn't suggest that Daley's troubles would get worse. Daley has previously been involved only in small-time crimes, Capron said.

"I'm appalled at the way the police are treating this," said Capron, who lives in Springfield, Vt. "They're making him out to be a monster." In some ways, Daley's story, as laid out in public records, is a difficult one to tell. He wandered from town to town and never seemed to establish strong relationships. The address he gave courts changed frequently.

But interviews with some of Daley's friends and acquaintances have provided a sketchy portrait: He is described as a libertarian who spoke out against the U.S.A. Patriot Act. He was a hot-rod enthusiast who put money and effort into his car and he was a hippie who loved to dance at jam band concerts.

Fractured family

Daley was born in Greenfield, Mass., in 1980, and his parents divorced when he was about 3 years old. He went with his mother, Linda Daley, who moved frequently, said his father, Mark Daley, in an interview at his Springfield, Vt., apartment. Mark Daley, who works the night shift at a North Springfield, Vt., factory, said he saw his son periodically, but that depended on his ex-wife dropping him off.

His son was shopping for an identity and stability, he said. "He's just trying to find a place," he said. "He hasn't found his niche."

Daley's mother could not be reached for this report. An employee at a roadside motel in Swanzey said she had lived there until about three weeks ago but left no forwarding address.

For a time, Daley lived with his mother and younger brother in Jaffrey. He was 17 when the Jaffrey police said he shoved his mother, according to Jaffrey-Peterborough District Court documents, which did not contain police affidavits offering more information about the incident. He pleaded guilty to simple assault, received a suspended 30-day jail sentence and was ordered to attend six hours of counseling focusing on anger and self-control.

"He definitely didn't have much of a family life," said friend Elvis Capron, in a telephone interview from Seattle. A feeling of independence from a young age, he said, "put an edge on his life."

In November 1998, a judge issued a protective order forbidding Eric from seeing his mother, who had moved to a new apartment. But on the afternoon of Dec. 31, Daley showed up at his mother's apartment. Daley was arrested, could not pay bail and rang in the New Year at the Cheshire County Department of Corrections.

He started out 1999 by pleading guilty to violating the probation order and was ordered to serve three days in jail and pay a 0 fine. About 10 months later, though, he wound up in trouble again. This time, the Nashua police arrested and charged him with possession of marijuana, according to documents from the Nashua District Court. He eventually pleaded guilty to that charge.

'A hard time accepting responsibility'

Daley avoided trouble until February 2000, when he was arrested after leading the police on a 21/2-mile car chase through Springfield, Vt. He later pleaded guilty to charges of negligent operation and leaving the scene of an accident. The charges for attempting to elude the police and possession of marijuana were dismissed by the state.

Daley was placed on probation and ordered to complete a community reparative program, which gives nonviolent offenders the option of meeting with local citizen boards to discuss how to make amends for their crimes.

In October 2000, he met with the Springfield board for the first time. "At that first meeting Eric had a hard time accepting responsibility for the seriousness of his role in the offense," his probation officer, Steve Henry, wrote in an affidavit filed in Vermont District Court in White River Junction. "He had a hard time listening to board members and responded in a justifying way."

Daley did not attend the next required meeting and never offered an explanation. The Springfield Reparative Board said he was not appropriate for the program, and Daley was sent back to the court for violating terms of his probation. Daley was found guilty and ordered to participate in the state's work crew.

For nearly three years, until earlier this year, the court system was mostly silent on Daley.

He was arrested again in March when a New Hampshire state trooper pulled him over for speeding on Interstate 89 in Grantham. Daley was charged with possession of cocaine and possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, according to the complaint that state Trooper Lawrence Holdsworth filed in Newport District Court.

But Daley won't make it to his routine hearing on the case, which is scheduled for next month. Instead, he waits in a jail cell in connection with an incident that started out like the one in March but ended in tragedy.

Missed chances

Some law enforcement officials said the legal system in both states offered Daley chances to reform through counseling services and the community reparative board. But some who knew him said Daley had mapped out a future that would keep him on the wrong side of the law.

"He had most of the primary indicators to predict someone that would reach a criminal plateau," said retired Jaffrey police chief Robert Pelio in a telephone interview from his home in California. "He had a lot of problems with authority figures." Pelio said the New Hampshire court system offered Daley "an array of services," including counseling and a one-on-one case manager. But counseling programs don't work for everybody, he said.

Mark Daley defended his son and spoke about the time Eric Daley bought him a DVD player because he wanted his father to have something nice. Mark Daley said his son had done no worse than any of the other young people who get in occasional scrapes with the law. But he acknowledged that he knew little about his son's personal and social life.

"He didn't confide in me much," said Mark Daley. "He kept his friends to himself." He said the June 15 incident could have been avoided - on both sides. "Why was he let to drive away?" he said of his son. "Why was he allowed to sit there if they were suspecting something?"

'Strictly a loner'

Neither parent showed up at Daley's arraignment at Vermont District Court in White River Junction last month. Instead, a group of about 15 young people waited outside and waved as Daley was taken away in a sheriff department cruiser. "He has a lot of acquaintances," said Dennis Capron, who let Daley live with his family for several months a few years ago. "(But) he was strictly a loner."

Elvis Capron said he met Daley several years ago in Springfield. Daley dropped out of high school, he said, but carried on philosophical conversations about politics. Daley would warn him about getting too close to girlfriends and complain that the "system" was eroding personal liberties.

But Daley showed great enthusiasm for his interests. When he attended music festivals, usually featuring reggae or jam bands, he was just another insouciant concertgoer, dancing wildly. "He's a hippie at heart," Capron said.

Matt Stickney, an acquaintance of Daley's who graduated from Oxbow High School in Bradford, Vt., knew and liked Sgt. Johnson, who was a familiar face at the school. "All of this has taken me by shock," he said. "It's hard for me to fathom."

Stickney said he is angry with Daley because of the way their friends have been implicated in his escape. He was especially upset that Daley used the car of Adrian Greene, who lives with Stickney but would not comment for this story, in fleeing from the police. (No charges have been filed against any of the people who the police say knew Daley was wanted.) "He used people I care about to elude officers of the law," said Stickney, who's known Daley for about a year.

But Stickney said Daley's situation is a complicated one. "He's not a monster," he said. "He's a kid who made some poor choices in life."

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