Guilty verdict in East Bethel shooting trial
Dennis Dundas convicted of aggravated assault for shooting his friend
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION - “If I put my arm down you can play connect the dots with the bullet holes, seriously!” Donald Giovanella explained this week to a jury at the Windsor County Courthouse. “I have seven bullet holes in me from three bullets. I’ve got two major surgical scars and a plate in my right arm holding the bones together with twelve screws.”
It’s anyone’s guess how the 48-year-old Giovanella survived his ordeal to make it into the witness stand this week at the trial of his former friend Dennis Dundas, 68, but Giovanella made it clear that he thought Dundas had simply snapped on the night of April 26, 2015, shooting him three times during what up to that point had been a cordial evening of drinking and conversation between the two men at a small bar inside Dundas’ barn-like home on Route 14 in East Bethel.
Dundas' explanation seemed to expand and evolve from the moments immediately after the shots rang out, when Dundas gave his first account of the evening to a 911 dispatcher, and continuing through to his own turn testifying in front of the jury on Friday as he filled in details about how Giovanella supposedly had too much blackberry brandy and then became enraged and attacked Dundas after he said enough already and tried to take the bottle away from him.
Dennis Dundas, 68, of East Bethel (in the red shirt) is taken into custody after the verdict
On Friday afternoon, a Windsor County jury deliberated for just over an hour before returning with a guilty verdict, convicting Dundas of aggravated assault, a felony which carries a potential jail term of up to 15 years although the state is expected to argue for considerably less time than that at Dundas’ eventual sentencing. In the meantime, Judge Theresa DiMauro stunned friends of Dundas and the three of his six adult daughters who attended the trial by ordering that he immediately be taken into custody and held without bail while he awaits that sentencing.
Donald Giovanella, 48, of East Bethel was shot three times and nearly died in April of 2015
The verdict came as a vindication for Giovanella who had said in a small village like East Bethel he had felt the weight of suspicion fall heavily on his shoulders for these past two years in large part because Dundas’ defense was essentially based on the premise that Giovanella was someone capable of a sudden violent outburst so scary that the only resort was to keep firing a handgun until he was down on the ground and nearly dead.
It was Giovanella’s testimony, and the conclusion of the detectives and crime scene investigators who combed through the residence two years ago, that it was actually Dundas who had flown off the handle and used a reckless and unnecessary level of force. In fact, Giovanella told the jurors that it was not a question of proportionate use of force at all but rather simply a perceived insult that had led Dundas to pull a gun and then start firing.
Giovanella points out the bottle of blackberry brandy underneath the bar in Dundas' home
Dundas, a Vietnam combat veteran with a Purple Heart, had just explained to his younger friend what had happened during one of the more infamous Japanese war crimes of World War II, the Bataan Death March that took place in the Philippines in 1942, an incident that Giovanella said he’d never heard of before, when Giovanella replied with what he said he thought was a rather innocuous observation about the differences in attitude toward POWs among generations of soldiers.
The men would have drinks in Dundas' combined home and antique shop two or three evenings each week
Giovanella said that Dundas, who'd been drinking vodka mixed with watermelon-kiwi soda from a beer stein over the course of the evening, took instant offense and pulled a Remington .380 semi-automatic pistol from under a pile of mail on the wooden bar at which the two men had been sitting across from each other and ordered Giovanella out of his house.
Despite Dundas' account of violent struggle, nothing was knocked off the bar onto the floor
The problem, Giovanella testified, was that the front door was on the other side of the bar behind Dundas.
“I made it around the end of the bar (and him) and I slowly backed up to the door,” Giavanella said, showing the jury how he'd been holding both his hands up in the air in front of himself as he did so. “I got my left hand on the outside of the door. I got my other hand on the doorknob when he discharged the gun,” Giovanella said Wednesday, “It went right through here and out my rib cage. I said `You shot me.’ I was in complete disbelief.”
“He said `Yeah, and now I’m going to shoot you again!,’ and so he did,” Giovanella testified, showing how he'd been bent over at an unnatural angle with one hand on the doorknob and the other plaintively trying to shield his body.
“It blew off my middle finger and I went right down on the floor and he goes `Yeah, now I’m going to shoot you again!’ and BLAM! he shot me again,” Giovanella said, his voice quavering. “It blew right through my guts. It blew out down here. It went right through my kidney, shattered my stomach. I was unarmed.”
“I said `911! 911! 911! 911! 911!’”
“He said `Now you gotta die!’
“I kept saying “911!” over and over," Giovanella continued, "Finally he called. I don’t know how I got the strength to get up and get on the phone. I was going into a state of shock and dying. Just a lot of pain in my body from the bullets.” After the call, “He proceeded to drag me out and dump my body outside his door onto the cold April pavement. I had to reach up around his neck…like anybody who is getting dragged while they are dying.”
“The first shot went in almost an inch from my heart and out through my left arm leaving part of my left hand paralyzed. The next shot blew off the tip of my middle finger, shattered the humerus bone, travelled through my lungs and permanently lodged in my spine,” Giovanella said growing more animated, “It’s there right now and I’ll have it in there for the rest of my life. The last bullet shattered my spleen, ruptured my big and small intestine and shattered my kidney before going out my back. Both of my lungs had collapsed by the time I was airlifted from the crime scene to the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. They had to take all of my insides out and sift through everything on the operating table and stitch it back together. I’ve still got shrapnel from the bullets all through my body.”
Judge Theresa DiMauro looks on as prosecutor Heidi Remick shows the jury the gun
While Giovanella was undergoing major surgeries at the hospital, detectives were working their way inch-by-inch through Dundas’ cluttered four-story house finding the shell casings and digging the other two bullets out of the wall and the floor just inches from the door to the foyer.
Weighing Dundas’ account of a violent life-or-death struggle which he said left him with no choice but to shoot, at close range, not once but three separate times before he felt safe, detectives were confronted with the fact that nothing in the small cluttered bar area seemed out of place.
“No matter what I did he kept attacking me!” Dundas told the 911 call taker, adding, “My neck hurts from him strangling me…just kept coming. He went out of his mind…He wouldn’t stop so it took three shots to get him out of here.”
Up and through this week Dundas would describe being choked, slammed into a trophy case, having half his beard pulled out, being repeatedly slammed against the rickety bar which was covered in half-full glasses and mugs, being rammed into a wall filled with calendars and other notes, being choked down onto a chair, and ultimately being pulled to the floor in what he characterized as a struggle during which he thought he could be killed.
“His account makes no sense in light of the physical evidence,” Windsor County Deputy State’s Attorney Heidi Remick told the jury during her closing argument late Friday morning. “There’s no sign of a struggle. There is clutter on every surface. There is stuff on every wall,” and yet none of it was disturbed or knocked onto the floor, Remick noted.
Giovanella’s version was further backed up by a detective from the state crime lab who noted that none of the bullet-perforated clothing that had been cut off of Giovanella by EMTs at the scene tested positive for any firearm residue which suggested that the shots had been fired from a much greater distance than the close struggle for possession of the gun that Dundas had repeatedly recounted to investigators.
The state will request a pre-sentencing investigation report before recommending a punishment
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