BY ALAN J. KEAYS/VTDigger
RUTLAND — A former Rutland child care provider charged more than three years ago with manslaughter and child cruelty in the death of six-month-old Harper Rose Briar is set for trial next month after a prosecutor pushed back on delaying it.
“I’ll reiterate what I said at the last status conference, which is that Harper’s family very much wants to see this case go forward,” acting Rutland County State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan said during a video hearing on Tuesday, August 23.
“They have expressed to me that they do not want to see additional delays,” Sullivan said.
Judge David Fenster agreed, at least for now, to keep the case against Stacey Vaillancourt on the jury drawing list for Sept. 21, with a trial expected to last about five days afterward.
Fenster had suggested moving the trial back a month to October because several cases were set to draw juries in September. During the hearing, Robert McClallen, Vaillancourt’s attorney, said he would have supported moving the trial to October.
Vaillancourt, 57, was arraigned on the two charges in March 2019. She pleaded not guilty to both offenses. She faces up to 25 years in prison if convicted of the charges.
The Pittsford infant died on Jan. 24, 2019, at the child care facility that Vaillancourt ran out of her home on North Street in Rutland.
It was Harper’s second day at the home when Vaillancourt gave her a fatal amount of diphenhydramine, an “over-the-counter (sedating) antihistamine used for the treatment of allergic reactions,” according to a police affidavit filed in the case.
According to the affidavit, Vaillancourt told investigators she was the sole person who provided care for Harper that day.
An autopsy report from the state’s chief medical examiner’s office showed that Harper’s death was a homicide caused by “diphenhydramine intoxication.”
Dr. Elizabeth Bundock of the chief medical examiner’s office wrote that diphenhydramine is not to be used in infants without a physician’s order, according to the police affidavit.
“The level of diphenhydramine in Harper Briar’s blood at the time of death represents more than one therapeutic dose,” the affidavit stated. “The blood concentration at the time may represent one large administration or multiple small administrations.”
The prosecution has alleged that Vaillancourt provided the drug to sedate the infant.
McClallen, Vaillancourt’s attorney, said at his client’s March 2019 arraignment that she had run the daycare for 25 years but stopped operating it following the death.
The case prompted some Rutland County residents to post lawn signs reading “Justice For Harper Rose.”
After the hearing on Tuesday, Sullivan declined to comment on the case or to discuss the reasons for the delay in bringing the case to trial.
Speaking generally, he said the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down the court system. With jury trials only recently restarting, he said priority has been given to defendants who are incarcerated for lack of bail.
Vaillancourt has been free on a $25,000 bond since her arraignment.