Published April 29. 2014 12:22PM Updated April 30. 2014 12:05AM
Army veteran Jason Durr turned and apologized Tuesday to the woman he shot in the chest with an assault rifle two years ago as he was sentenced in New London Superior Court to five years in prison.
"I am sorry," he said. "Nobody deserves to be shot in the chest. Nobody."
Durr, 29, was drinking heavily, had been using drugs and may have experienced a flashback to his deployments to the Middle East when he committed the crime, according to testimony. He was treated for post-traumatic stress disorder and drug and alcohol abuse while his case was pending.
In January, he pleaded guilty to first-degree assault and illegal possession of an assault weapon in exchange for a sentence of 15 years in prison, suspended after five years served, followed by three years of probation. The state did not pursue a charge of attempted murder as part of the plea agreement.
Durr, who towered over everybody in the courtroom at nearly 7 feet tall, turned to the row of benches where victim Rachel Trombino sat with her family and said he was sorry. He also handed his attorney, Kevin C. Barrs, a letter of apology that Barrs said Durr has been waiting two years to deliver to Trombino.
Trombino, who underwent emergency surgery following the May 9, 2012, incident at Durr's apartment on Kick Hill Road in Lebanon, declined to speak at the sentencing, but outside the courtroom said she would read Durr's letter and is ready to move on with her life.
Her mother, Patty Trombino, delivered an emotional victim impact statement, breaking down as she described her daughter's injuries, which included an injured lung, a lacerated spleen and shattered ribs. Her daughter has a 10-inch scar and occasionally has bullet fragments come through her skin while showering, Trombino said. Like everybody involved with the case, Trombino's mother said she can't believe her daughter survived being shot at close range.
Patty Trombino said her daughter was diagnosed with PTSD as a result of the shooting, suffers nightmares and is startled by loud noises, such as fireworks.
"My husband and I live with images of her in the trauma unit, strapped to the bed with a breathing tube and a bullet hole in her chest," Mrs. Trombino said.
Prosecutor David J. Smith noted doctors indicated Durr did not have severe symptoms of PTSD.
"What it looks like in reality is alcohol and drugs, and a fiery personality caused it," Smith said.
Trombino and Durr were in his basement apartment and were overheard arguing earlier in the night, according to an arrest warrant affidavit in the case. Both had been drinking.
Trombino, interviewed at the hospital hours after her surgery, was unable to speak, but communicated with detectives by writing. She said Durr "freaked out" and shot her after hearing a loud noise outside, getting a strange look in his eyes and having flashbacks of Iraq.
Durr called 911 at 1:10 a.m. to report the shooting. Upon arrival, troopers found him in the kitchen and the victim lying on Durr's bed covered in blood. The troopers saw "numerous knives and edged weapons" on the kitchen table and counter, a Colt Match Target .223-caliber rifle on a living room couch, a pellet rifle near the kitchen door and rounds of ammunition throughout the apartment.
Trombino said Durr shot her once in the chest, said good night and then attempted to fire again, but the gun jammed.
Durr's attorney, who worked to get him into a VA program and a sober house while his case was pending, said the incident was "bad, and Jason knows it." Barrs said as soon as he was assigned to the case, he began receiving phone calls from veterans groups, law clinics and even Durr's old basketball coach, who said he is "a great kid."
Barrs said Durr's mother knew there was something wrong with her son the moment he stepped off the plane from his deployment because he was shaking. He said Durr was in a transport unit, exposed to combat fire and had friends who lost lives and limbs. Durr insisted he was OK and used Xanax and alcohol to self-medicate, Barrs said.
At the VA hospital for treatment, "he was finally able to open up and deal with the memories of serving overseas because they were so painful to deal with," Barrs said.