January 17, 2019

Third Vermont inmate dies at out-of-state prison

Block J at the Camp Hill prison in Pennsylvania where Vermonters are housed. File photo by Jasper Craven/VTDigger

By Dave Gram

For VTDigger

It was the rare Vermont crime that was so horrific it drew extensive national media coverage.

When Herbert Rodgers was sentenced to 30 to 70 years for blinding and maiming his estranged wife with industrial-strength lye, his lawyer said a medical condition meant he likely would die behind bars. Rodgers died Monday at a hospital near the Pennsylvania prison where Vermont keeps more than 260 inmates, the Vermont Department of Corrections said in a statement. Rodgers was 62.

He was the third Vermont inmate in about two months to have died after serving time at Pennsylvania’s State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, which has been faulted by prisoners’ rights advocates as lacking sufficient health care for inmates. Pennsylvania officials maintain medical care at the prison meets community standards.

Rodgers, formerly of White River Junction, was convicted in 2009 in the 2007 attack on his estranged wife, Carmen Tarleton. Police said he broke into the Thetford home of the 40-year-old nurse and mother of two, beat her with a baseball bat and used a dish detergent squeeze bottle filled with industrial-strength lye to douse her, leaving her blinded and maimed with burns over 92 percent of her body.

“I can’t express to the court how it feels to be called ‘unrecognizable’ and you can’t see it,” Tarleton said at Rodgers’ sentencing hearing, according to The Associated Press. She told of television reporters saying, “These scenes are graphic, beware,” and that she knew “they’re talking about me and I can’t see what they’re talking about.”

Tarleton went on to have more than 50 surgeries to try to heal her wounds, including an experimental face transplant in 2013 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

“To me, the difference between an organ transplant and a face transplant — I just feel our faces are certainly what we link our identity with,” Tarleton told The New York Times after the 2013 surgery. “And your face is how you … express how you’re feeling.”

At the 2009 sentencing, Rodgers, a former medical equipment salesman who by then was divorced from Tarleton, told her he regretted his actions. “”Carmen, you didn’t deserve it. I can’t tell you why, I’m not going to get into it, but you didn’t deserve it. I hope you get along.”

At Rodgers’ sentencing, defense lawyer Kevin Griffin said that he expected his client would die in prison, due to a then-existing medical condition. Griffin did not say what the condition was, and the Corrections Department, in its announcement of Rodgers’ death, also did not identify what killed him.

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