The good wife

Her life changed on the morning that police came to tell her that her husband killed his boss. But Meg McCarthy is standing by her husband, now 900 miles away in prison.

MARLBORO — Meg McCarthy, 60, who lives in Marlboro, is a graphic designer for print and web. Small, slender, gentle, and soft-spoken, she drifts through town as if she's lost her mooring. She carries with her an air of unspoken tragedy.

What do you do when your beloved husband does something unbelievably violent? Something reprehensible? Something that you never saw coming? Something which has changed your life forever?

Do you deny him? Do you continue to love him? Do you support him? Or do you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out how something as horrible as this could have ever happened?

She is Richard Gagnon's wife, and she has never abandoned him.

McCarthy is the forgotten victim in all the pain, grief, and bewilderment of the co-op shooting. She had no idea of the turmoil he was in when he shot and killed Michael Martin in August of 2011.

“I was with him for 26 years, and I'd never seen a violent episode or a whiff of violence,” McCarthy said. “What happened was not him.”

Society expects the family of Michael Martin to mourn. But what of the vulnerable and fragile McCarthy? Is she allowed to mourn, too?

“My life has a huge hole in it,” she said. “Every day, there's an undercurrent of sadness. And my income has been cut in half.”

McCarthy remains devoted to Gagnon as he serves out the next 17 years of his sentence in a for-profit Kentucky prison.

“I have a very big job, which is supporting Richard in any way that I can,” McCarthy said. “Richard and I have incredible support from family and friends. We're very lucky in that respect.”

McCarthy knew that Gagnon was stressed out at work.

“I said, 'Why don't you just quit? The job's not fun anymore,'” she said. “His response was, 'I'm 59 years old. What else am I going to do?'”

She and Gagnon had talked about having guns in the house for safety reasons. She was adamantly opposed to the idea.

“I would have been really unhappy to know he had a gun,” she said. “Because we lived so far off the beaten track, he was fearful. But I said I don't want to have a gun in my house. I don't see any benefit. So he agreed not to have a gun.”

On the day of the shooting, Aug. 9, 2011, McCarthy was working in the cottage studio Gagnon had built for her next to their home.

“A couple of state police cars came zooming up the driveway,” McCarthy said. “I came out. 'What happened? Has there been an accident?' The policeman said, 'Do you know what happened at the co-op?' I said no. 'Someone's been murdered,' the policeman said. 'Has Richard been murdered?' I asked. 'No,' said the policeman. 'He seems to be involved in a murder.' And I was stunned.”

The police were not there to alert McCarthy. They were there to secure the premises.

“They wouldn't let me into the house by myself, or let me get back into my office,” McCarthy said. “They had to come with me. So I checked my voicemail, and there was Neil [Harley] telling me what had happened. Another friend on the phone said, 'I just heard what happened. Is Richard OK?'

“The rest is a little hazy. A detective from the state police interviewed me, and I foolishly answered his questions. Foolish because the police were not there to help me. They were there to gather evidence against Richard. And I didn't have to talk to them. But I wanted them to know that Richard would never do this.”

Harley had once worked at the co-op, but had left to start his own chai business. His wife, Jennifer Morier, had worked at the co-op for 14 years; at the time of the shooting she was in the marketing department. Close friends of McCarthy and Gagnon, they immediately drove to Marlboro. They found McCarthy baffled, frightened, and surrounded by police.

“Meg was looking at us with pleading eyes,” Morier said. “'Jen,' she said. 'Tell me this isn't true. Tell them they have the wrong man. Richard couldn't do this.' She could not believe what they were trying to tell her.”

When she was recently interviewed at The Commons office, Morier began to weep when she said, “I just saw her whole world fall apart, like someone had cut her at the knees. In front of this house she and Richard had built and the studio Richard had built for her business. She didn't see any of this coming and they'd been together for more than 20 years. They were so much in love.”

McCarthy stayed with her sister in New Hampshire for a while, then moved in with other friends in South Newfane. Tropical Storm Irene came and washed out the roads to her house; she didn't didn't get back home for a month. She couldn't work, because all her electronics had been confiscated by the police.

“They took my computers for seven months,” McCarthy said. “My iPod, my iPad - all gone. They didn't find anything on the computers, either.”

For three weeks after the shooting, she didn't even get to see her husband.

“We had a hard time connecting because of all the red tape,” McCarthy said. “The first time I visited [Richard] was three weeks later in the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield. That was so hard. It was horrible. I was in shock. But I didn't feel like distancing myself. I didn't know what had happened, but I knew nothing like that would have happened if he could have helped it.”

After Gagnon was sentenced, he almost immediately was moved to a prison in Kentucky.

There he can make collect 15-minute phone calls out; they cost $3.17 each. He and McCarthy talk to each other and write to each other every day. He also speaks to Harley and Morier and other friends.

Travel to Kentucky is expensive; McCarthy cannot go often.

“We stay as connected as we can under the circumstances,” McCarthy said. “In Kentucky, I can see him on Saturdays and Sundays from roughly 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. We can be together in a big room with a guard or two or three. The last time I went down, there were seven guys getting visitors.”

Conjugal visits are not allowed, but that's still better than in Vermont.

“In Vermont, there's no contact allowed,” McCarthy said. “In Kentucky, we could hug and kiss and hold hands. And we do. Oh yes, we do.”

Approximately 520 Vermont prisoners are housed out-of-state in Kentucky or Arizona. Both places are run by the Corrections Corporation of America.

There is a political movement in Vermont to end out-of-state prisoner housing.

Vermonters for Criminal Justice Reform, founded by Rep. Suzi Wizowaty, D-Burlington, is an organization- according to its Facebook page - “dedicated to reducing the number of Vermonters in prison, eliminating the use of private prisons, and advocating for increased funding for treatment, alternatives to incarceration, and reintegration services for those leaving prison.”

According to Wizowaty, it is important for Vermont to stop subsidizing “a private industry that makes a profit out of incarceration.” This session in the House, Wizowaty introduced a bill to give the state a three-year deadline to end out-of-state prison housing. House Speaker Shap Smith said he supports the proposal.

McCarthy also supports the bill and is designing a website for the organization.

“The Vermont criminal justice system has failed me miserably and Richard, too,” McCarthy said. “I feel the sentence is too severe. I feel that what is allowed as evidence and what is not allowed as evidence was working against Richard. And I am very disappointed that my state has sent him to Kentucky.”

Gagnon will be in his late 70s when he leaves prison. But McCarthy will be waiting for him.

“I haven't lost any clients,” she said. “I haven't lost any friends. I know there are people out there who have a different opinion than I have about Richard, but I am always amazed at how much support we have in this community.

“I didn't know if I could stay around, to tell you the truth. But the community has been great. Anybody who knows Richard knows that something went terribly wrong.”

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