Trial begins in the death of Harper Rose Briar


RUTLAND—For the past several years, it’s been impossible to travel anywhere in the Pittsford area without seeing the face of Harper Rose Briar on pink lawn signs demanding “justice” for her death.  The six-month-old girl died in 2019 while in the care of Stacey Vaillancourt, who ran an in-home daycare facility and has been charged with manslaughter for allegedly giving the infant a fatal dose of Benadryl.

The case has dragged on for years, the process hindered by the intervening COVID epidemic, among other factors.  But the trial finally began on Monday, November 27 at the Rutland County criminal court.  

Rutland County State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan is now tasked with proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Vaillancourt administered the diphenhydramine (the active ingredient in Benadryl) that was discovered in Harper Rose’s body at the time of her death and was determined to be the cause.  

Defense attorney Robert McClallen, in his opening statements, asserted that the state will not be able to meet its burden of proof.

“The state’s not going to be able to give any evidence that proves how the diphenhydramine got in her system,” said McClallen.

However, Harper Rose’s parents—Marissa Colburn and Blake Briar—deny that they ever gave their daughter any medication containing the compound in question and that they ever even had any such medication in their possession.

Colburn has testified that on Harper Rose’s third day in Vaillancourt’s care, while driving home from class at Castleton University (as it was still called at the time), she received a message from Vaillancourt alerting her that Harper Rose was ill and being taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center.  

When Colburn arrived at the hospital, she was informed that staff was attempting to resuscitate the infant and that even if the staff were successful, Harper Rose had already suffered irreversible brain damage.  Colburn gave permission to the medical staff to end their attempts and let Harper Rose go.

The case shook the local community, who rallied behind Colburn and Briar and began displaying the ubiquitous pink signs in support of the couple and their lost child.  

The trial is expected to continue throughout the week.

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