BURLINGTON, Vt. There was a moment, after the Marshal removed his handcuffs, when Nathan Carman stood here in a courtroom, looking strangely like a newly graduated resident, fresh out of medical school, about to go into the operating room.
His dark green jumpsuit looked like surgical scrubs. The mask he was wearing to protect himself from COVID added to the effect.
But it’s doubtful that Nathan Carman, 28, could have made it to medical school. His only attempt at college, a federal prosecutor noted Tuesday, failed sadly short. He failed in every class.
Nathanael Burris, the district attorney, even suggested that it was those college grades, all Fs, that led Carman to murder his 87-year-old grandfather, John Chakalos, in 2013.
Chakalos, a self-made millionaire real estate developer, was all about education and had threatened to cut off his grandson financially if Carman didn’t succeed in school. Two days after Carman got his grades, his grandfather was shot and killed at his home in Windsor, Conn., by the same type of rifle Carman had recently bought, lied about buying, and later claimed to have lost, Burris said.
A bad report, the government would have you believe, set off what would become a dizzying web of family murder that is Shakespearean in its scope and pathos.
Three years after allegedly murdering his grandfather, a crime for which no one has been charged, Carman devised an elaborate plan to drown his mother, Linda, who had written him out of her will, Burris said. Carman made adjustments to his boat so that it would sink when he took his mother on a fishing trip off the coast of Rhode Island — and sink quickly, Burris said. Carman had two devices that broadcast distress signals, but he failed to activate one and left another in his trunk that was designed to activate automatically when submerged.
Listening to the competing stories during Carman’s detention hearing, you’d have to conclude that he’s either a devious sociopath or just about the unhappiest man in the world.
Carman’s attorneys, Mary Nerino and Sara Puls, tried desperately to suggest that it was the latter, that the government had built a meager case against their client based on circumstantial evidence and breathless innuendo, that he was the victim of the circumstances pursued by tragedy and overzealous prosecutors. But no matter how hard the defense tried, their job was like taking a boat out with a spoon.
While trying to persuade Judge Geoffrey Crawford to hold Carman without bail pending trial, Burris painted Carman as an unemployed, displaced loner, cut off from family, entrenched in a sprawling home in Vernon, facing his aunts, who hold him responsible. for the murder of their father and sister, are terrified at the prospect of getting out of prison, the prosecutor said.
Puls, the defense attorney, insisted there was no point in Carman killing the two relatives he was closest to. She said he was self-employed, not unemployed, and sold building materials. He goes to Bible study, she added. She said he was introverted, but extremely polite. And she disputed the government’s claim that he no longer has family ties, citing a letter Carman’s father wrote in support of his release.
In rebuttal, Burris mocked Carman’s father who vouched for him and said the two have had little contact recently.
“He has no idea who his son is,” Burris said.
But the government insists it is. The government is convinced that Nathan Carman is a ruthless, soulless young man who, seeking not fame but the fortune his grandfather passed on to his mother and her sisters, was willing to kill the woman who gave him life.
The evidence is mostly circumstantial, Judge Crawford acknowledged, but he also characterized it as strong and significant.
After the judge ordered that he be held without bail, Nathan Carman gave substance to… his lawyer’s claim that he is an extremely polite young man. Unsolicited, he got up and put his arms behind his back so that the Marshal could put the handcuffs back on.
Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.