Vermont Supreme Court upholds murder conviction in Montpelier ambush shooting

Jayveon Caballero
Jayveon Caballero during an arraignment hearing in Washington County Criminal Court. Pool photo by Stefan Hard/Times Argus

The Vermont Supreme Court unanimously upheld the murder conviction of Jayveon Caballero in the ambush-style shooting death of a Montpelier man in January 2017.

Caballero, 35, was sentenced in October 2020 by Washington County Criminal Court Judge Mary Morrissey to 25 years to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder in the fatal shooting of Markus Austin.

It was the first case of murder in the Vermont capital in nearly 100 years.

“The defendant acknowledges that he repeatedly threatened to kill the victim, borrowed a gun, waited for the victim at his home and fired at the victim’s windshield which ultimately killed the victim.” wrote Chief Justice Paul Reiber in the 5-0 decision. released on Friday.

“The defendant claims, however, that the evidence tends to show that he merely fired a warning shot and did not aim directly at the victim, and therefore did not knowingly ignore a risk deadly,” Reiber wrote. “We do not agree.”

Prosecutors believe Caballero acted out of revenge, ambushing Austin after he drove to his Montpellier apartment. They said Caballero had targeted Austin after a fight outside a Barre bar hours earlier.

Austin was a former player for the Vermont Frost Heaves semi-pro basketball team, which folded in 2011. He was employed at Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin as a mental health specialist at the time of his dead.

Caballero, through his trial attorney, did not dispute that he fired his gun, but maintained that he had no actual intention of shooting Austin.

His attorney argued that Caballero was aiming away from Austin, but the bullet hit the windshield, causing the projectile’s trajectory to curve and hit the victim.

In convicting Caballero of second degree murder, the jury acquitted him of a charge of first degree premeditated murder.

While appealing Caballero’s conviction, public defender Dawn Seibert argued that the trial court judge wrongly excluded a statement Caballero made to his cousin about three hours after the shooting that he “was smelled horrible and didn’t really know what had happened.”

This statement, Seibert argued, showed that Caballero had no intention of shooting Austin.

The high court ruled, however, that the exclusion of this comment did not deprive Caballero of a fair trial. “The statement was not conclusive as to whether the accused knowingly ignored a mortal risk to the victim, the minimum intent required for second-degree murder,” his ruling said.

The Vermont attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, released a statement Monday after the ruling. “We hope the Court’s decision gives Markus Austin’s family some peace,” it read.

Seibert, Caballero’s attorney, could not be reached Monday for comment.

Caballero is currently incarcerated at the Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.

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