Judge Orders Alleged Shooter Held Without Bail

Paul Downer

A Connecticut man was ordered held without bail during an arraignment in Caledonia Superior Court Friday when a judge determined the man was a risk to cause future physical harm.

Paul Downer, 25, of Hartford, Conn., has been held in Caledonia Superior Court since being arrested as part of a police raid at 619 Portland St. on Thursday. Jail appears to be where he’ll stay while felony charges against him are pending.

“The court is concerned that if I set conditions (of pretrial release) they may not be complied with,” said Judge Michael Harris. He said the charges – aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and attempted murder in the second degree – are serious. He also said that there is reason to be concerned for the safety of the witnesses in the case against Downer if he were to be freed.

Downer is accused of shooting Ryan Farnham, 29, in the leg in January.

Downer connected to the court hearing via phone at the Northeast Regional Correctional Facility in St. Johnsbury. COVID protocols at the jail mean Downer must be in quarantine.

The initial discussion about bail considered the amount of money to be set for Downer to pay in order to be released from jail while the case is pending.

Deputy State’s Attorney Maria Byford initially asked for $200,000 bail. She said Downer’s lack of ties to the area and the serious nature of the charges against him, one of which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, are concerns and pose a significant risk he might not return to future court hearings if he is set free.

Downer’s public defender, Sam Swope, countered that Downer has no record of failing to make court appearances. Downer has no criminal record in Vermont. He has a job at a Walmart in Connecticut, said attorney Swope, and he is involved in a Hartford Boys and Girls Club. He also has a child with whom he maintains contact, said Downer’s attorney.

Swope asked the judge to order an unsecured appearance bond instead, which means no immediate out-of-pocket get-out-of-jail money that Downer must pay.

Judge Harris didn’t go with Swope’s request or Byford’s, but instead ordered bail set at $20,000. At that point, he was only considering the concern about Downer’s likelihood of returning to court when ordered.

“Mr. Downer has no links at all to Vermont and these are two serious charges, and the court does have concerns that he may fail to appear in Vermont,” he said.

After hearing that, Byford opted for a new strategy to keep Downer in jail while his charges are pending; she asked that he be held with no ability to seek bail and instead focused on the violent nature of the charges and a fear for public safety is Downer is released.

“We were hoping for a higher bail given the seriousness of the charges,” she said. “We’re going to ask for a hold without bail.”

Swope argued that Downer has no previous convictions of violence, and “he’s merely been accused in this case.”

Said Swope, “He is a 25-year-old man who is a father and community volunteer.”

Byford said while no past convictions for violent behavior may exist, the evidence of Downer’s guilt in the current violent crime is great. “This is a situation to the point where someone was shot,” she said. “Mr. Farnham certainly could have died from this incident.”

“Even though he is supposedly a resident in Hartford he keeps turning up in various homes in Vermont where drug activity is happening,” she said.

The judge agreed that the threat of future physical violence by Downer is significant and amended his initial bail amount to no bail option. He also ordered a “weight of the evidence” hearing in order for Downer to argue for an opportunity to make bail and go free.

In the event that bail does become an option for Downer and he can make the payment, the judge imposed conditions of release. Included are prohibitions from having any contact with Ryan Farnham, 29, and Kyra Carey, 21. He also must stay away from the properties at 241 Lafayette St. and 619 Portland St. The Lafayette residence is allegedly where Downer shot Farnham, and the Portland Street residence is where police took him into custody on Thursday.

Conditions of release also require him to not have in his possession any firearm or dangerous weapon.

The judge also said he couldn’t possess a regulated drug without a prescription, which raised a question from Downer.

“What about weed? Is weed OK?” he asked.

After a brief discussion, the judge ruled that marijuana use would be OK if the location at which Downer is using it allows its lawful possession.

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