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Swanton man gets 20 years in prison for 2020 fatal shooting


Franklin Superior Court
Franklin County Superior Court building in St. Albans. File photo by Peng Chen/VTDigger

A Swanton man who shot and killed another man in June 2020 during a dispute over petting a dog was sentenced this week to at least 20 years in prison.

James Mulholland, then 22, was accused of firing 11 shots at Kyle Labelle, 32, who died in surgery the same day. Mulholland was convicted of second-degree murder and could serve up to life in prison, though he will be eligible for release after two decades, Judge Martin Maley decided Tuesday in Franklin County Superior criminal court.

Labelle’s mother, Patricia Lykens, said in an interview Thursday that, while “justice was served,” she thinks Mulholland deserves a longer minimum prison sentence.

“He shouldn’t have the availability to be out in 20 years. My son doesn’t have the availability to come back after 20 years,” Lykens said.

Vermont law dictates a minimum 20-year sentence for second-degree murder unless a jury finds that there are aggravating or mitigating factors that justify a different minimum term. Lykens said her family originally sought a first-degree murder charge, which carries a minimum prison sentence of 35 years.

According to an affidavit filed in 2020, Mulholland told police he had been walking along Second Street in Swanton with a few friends when a dog ran toward them. He said Labelle followed the dog out toward the street and asked Mulholland not to touch his dog, which led to an argument.

The affidavit notes that a video of the incident, recorded by a bystander, shows the pair arguing outside for a few minutes, at times getting in one another’s faces. At one point in the video, Mulholland said to Labelle, “I’ll let you know right now, if you threaten to kill me again, I’ll put you 6 feet under.”

Mulholland said Labelle proceeded to charge at him, so he shot him in self-defense. But police reported that, in the video, Labelle remained on his own property and did not charge Mulholland. Police noted that Mulholland took about nine steps toward Labelle before shooting him.

Lykens said Thursday that Labelle’s three young daughters witnessed the shooting from their house nearby. The homicide has left lasting trauma, she said, not just on her family but on the surrounding neighborhood.

Diane Wheeler, a deputy state’s attorney for Franklin County, said court testimony revealed that Mulholland was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the time of the shooting from responding to a fatal fire while working for a local fire department. People who knew Mulholland were concerned that he possessed a gun, she said.

Wheeler said Thursday she hopes Maley’s verdict will serve as a deterrent. 

“The judge wanted Franklin County to know that, if you engage in a firearm battle or shoot somebody, you’re going to get a lengthy jail sentence,” she said. 

Mulholland’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment Thursday morning.

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