- Special Sections
WOONSOCKET â€” The city woman who abandoned another in a snowbank after a 2011 hit-and-run somehow persuaded the victim to write a letter to the court requesting leniency.
She didnâ€™t get it.
Rejecting the recommendations of prosecutors, Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel Tuesday sentenced Besty J. Feliciano, 33, to 10 years in prison, with one to serve and two years home confinement. The balance of the sentenced was suspended, with probation.
Vogel declared that Feliciano had perpetrated a â€śfraud upon the courtâ€ť by failing to disclose her dealings with Donna Vanmoerkerque, 39, before Feliciano was to be sentenced.
The unusual chain of events began on April 10, when Feliciano was originally scheduled to be sentenced on one count of leaving the scene of an accident, resulting in serious bodily injury. She was arrested for the crime a day after police found Vanmoerkerque lying unconscious on the side of Elm Street, on Jan. 2, 2011.
When Feliciano initially appeared for sentencing, her lawyer produced a notarized letter from Vanmeorkerque asking the court not to send Feliciano to jail. Feliciano had already entered a no contest plea as part of an agreement with state prosecutors that might have allowed her to do just that.
But Vogel was suspicious about how the letter originated, particularly because Vanmoerkerque was not present for the hearing, and probation officials had had trouble locating her for help in preparing Felicianoâ€™s pre-sentence guidance report for the judge. So the judge postponed the sentencing, issuing a subpoena to command Vanmoerkerqueâ€™s presence in court.
After Vanmoerkerque was escorted to Superior Court by police on July 24, Vogel put her on the witness stand and asked her why she wrote the letter. Under oath, Vanmoerkeque reluctantly admitted that Feliciano had came to her house and asked her to write it. Vanmoerkerque steadfastly denied that she was threatened or promised money in exchange for the letter. She said she had forgiven Feliciano and felt a kinship with her because they were both mothers of small children.
Vanmoerkerque said she suffers continuing physical impairment as a result of the injuries caused by the hit-and-run. She said her symptoms include grand mal seizures, memory loss, pain and weakness in her arms and legs. Simple chores like washing pots and pans are sometimes difficult now, she told the judge.
After listening the testimony, an angry Vogel tersely announced that she had vacated the plea agreement and rescheduled the sentencing until yesterday. The judge said she concluded that Felicianoâ€™s actions amounted to coercion and witness intimidation.