A solemn day in Courtroom No. 3

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Bennington Superior Court on Thursday, March 9 was the center of attention for the north and south shires. But it wasn't a happy occasion.

It was a sobering set of circumstances that brought the media, the police and family members to Courtroom No. 3: the arraignment of 31-year-old Timothy Butler of Sunderland, who pleaded not guilty to charges that he committed homicide against Helen Jones of Arlington in January.

For their effort throughout the investigation, we echo Bennington County State's Attorney Erica Marthage in thanking the men and women of the state police major crime unit for their hard work and dedication.

It's a relief for a community that wants to feel safe again and wants to see justice done. (To that end, we will offer no opinion about the charges against Butler. That is now a matter for the legal system.)

Arlington, after all, is a small town where a violent crime remains the exception that proves the rule. It's the kind of place where some folks still leave their cars running in the parking lot at Heer or Stewart's while they run in for coffee.

The news of Jones' death came as a shock. And when days turned to weeks without an arrest, it left residents on edge. An informational meeting held by the State Police in early February calmed some nerves, as residents learned that the green and gold cruisers they'd seen along routes 7A and 313 were part of a concerted effort to assure public safety. But that meeting couldn't quell all the rumors, either. In the middle of an active investigation, there isn't much police can say.

There was no dramatic moment on Thursday in Courtroom No. 3. The entire proceeding was over in less than five minutes. The reading of the charges was waived. Butler did not speak or turn to the television cameras behind him.

But we were reminded, seeing friends and family members in attendance holding back their emotions, that there's another aspect of legal system that television dramas miss: the human cost to family and loved ones. That cost is high indeed.

And it is a sad truth that even when justice is swift and sure, it cannot always put back together what violence has broken. If only it could.

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