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Two young men charged in connection with the shooting of two cows at the Palmer dairy farm in North Stonington last month found themselves in the media spotlight Wednesday when they were arraigned in New London Superior Court.
State police made two arrests in the case, but the man they say actually pulled the trigger of the 30-06 hunting rifle, 23-year-old Todd A. Caswell, was still at large as of Wednesday evening.
Angel, a 1-year-old Ayrshire heifer, had to be euthanized after the Jan. 26 shooting at the Pendleton Hill Road farm. A Holstein calf survived but will go through life with a bullet lodged in its spine.
Henry A. Williamson, 20, who pleaded not guilty to making a false statement and hindering prosecution, looked for an alternate exit from the Broad Street courthouse Wendesday when he realized camera crews were waiting for him outside the front door.
He is accused of lending his white Ford F-250 pickup truck to North Stonington residents Caswell and Max Urso, 18, and of helping the accused shooter, Caswell, conceal the rifle at the home of a Preston woman.
Williamson had posted a $25,000 bond following his arrest on Tuesday evening. His case was continued to March 6, and he was ordered to have no contact with the Palmers and to possess no weapons.
Max Urso, 18, of North Stonington, was charged with first-degree reckless endangerment, first-degree criminal mischief, unlawful discharge of a firearm, hunting/discharging a firearm from a public highway, having a loaded gun in a motor vehicle, cruelty to animals and conspiracy to commit cruelty to animals.
He allegedly drove to the Palmer farm with Caswell and provided Caswell with his Mossberg bolt action wooden stock rifle. He remained in police custody following his arrest Tuesday. When he appeared in court in a red prison jumpsuit, public defender Dawn Bradanini, who represented him during the arraignment, told the court she objected to the newspaper and television cameras that had been allowed inside the courtroom. Though Bradanini claimed the media attention was prejudicial, Judge John J. Nazzaro said the public had a right to know about the proceedings.
The judge kept Urso's bond at the $25,000 that had been set by state police but said Urso could be released if he posted 10 percent of the bond. His parents were speaking with a bail bondsmen after Urso's court appearance, and a court official said that later he did post the bond.
Nazzaro said he considers Urso, a senior at Wheeler High School in North Stonington, a threat to the community and ordered him placed on intensive pretrial supervision, including GPS monitoring and home confinement except for medical, legal and educational outings, while his case is pending.
Nazzaro said Urso could return to school only with permission from the North Stonington Board of Education, since he is under court order to have no contact with the cows' owner, Asa Palmer, who also attends the high school. The judge continued Urso's case to March 6 and advised him to retain an attorney since he is not eligible for a public defender.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit in Williamson's court file, prepared by Timothy G. Donahue, North Stonington's resident trooper, Urso provided written statements admitting his involvement in the shooting and naming Caswell as the shooter.
Urso said he and Caswell used Williamson's pickup truck and that the rifle was still in the pickup. State police confronted Williamson as he attended the Open Door Church on Pequot Trail in Stonington on the day after the shooting. Williamson denied his role and gave police his consent to search the truck. They did not recover the rifle.
Williamson told police that on Jan. 26 he loaned his truck to Urso, who said he wanted to give his girlfriend a ride home after a party at the Moran Sand and Gravel pit in North Stonington. Williamson said he saw Caswell the next morning and Caswell said he and Urso "went out and popped two cows," according to the affidavit.
On Jan. 28, Preston resident Sherri Bohara called police to say that Caswell had given her the gun the day before. The troopers seized the rifle from her home. Bohara said Caswell and Williamson had come to her house the previous day and asked her to hide the rifle for a couple of weeks. Bohara said she joked, "As long as you didn't shoot anybody with it" when she agreed to take the rifle, and that Caswell replied, "Just a couple of cows," according to the affidavit.
After the shooting, state Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, known as a champion of animals, established "The Angel Fund" at Chelsea Groton Bank to raise money for the Palmer family. More than $3,500 has been raised. Farmer George Palmer told state police the replacement cost of the cow is $1,500, veterinary fees were $139 and it cost approximately $200 in labor to care for and move the injured cows.
Palmer's son, Asa, had been raising the cows. He said Tuesday that he was angry that people he knew from school and church would do such a thing to the animals.
Wheeler High School Principal Christopher Sandford would not comment on Urso's status at the school or any disciplinary measures. According to the school's student handbook, "A principal must recommend expulsion proceedings in all cases against any student whom the administration has reason to believe … off school grounds, possessed a firearm … in the commission of a crime."
In a written statement, school district Superintendent Peter Nero said the allegations are "most disturbing."
"It is a blow to the high school and for all of our students, teachers and administrators who walk through the doors every day in the pursuit of academic excellence," he wrote. "It is a blow to the community, and all the hardworking families, not only those who are in the dairy business but those who have chosen North Stonington as a place to live, raise their families and most importantly send their children to school. The Connecticut State laws and Department of Education regulations in matters such as this are quite clear and the district will do all in its power to protect the safety of all its students and staff."
Staff writer Sasha Goldstein contributed to this story.