BURLINGTON, Vt. — A Vermont man accused of killing his mother and grandfather in hopes of collecting a multimillion-dollar inheritance was ordered held without bail Tuesday by a federal judge who said there was “clear and convincing evidence” that he posed a danger and flight risk if freed.
Nathan Carman, 28, of Vernon, Vt., appeared before Chief Judge Geoffrey W. Crawford in US District Court in Burlington. Carman, who has been jailed since his arrest in May on murder and fraud charges, had sought to be released from custody until his trial, with his lawyers arguing that the evidence against him is weak.
But Crawford said the government’s case linking Carman to his mother’s death was strong and cited his “acrimonious feud” with his aunts over his inheritance and his interest in guns as “evidence of a volatile situation.”
In a letter to prosecutors filed in court last week, Carman’s two aunts wrote that they were “very concerned that Nathan has nothing to lose if he is allowed out of jail at this time and will seek retribution against the family.”
After a 90-minute hearing, Crawford said there were no bail conditions that could guarantee Carman wouldn’t flee to avoid prosecution or retaliate against his maternal aunts, who hold him responsible for the slayings of his mother and grandfather. He noted that Carman faces a mandatory life sentence, without the possibility of parole, if convicted of killing his mother.
An eight-count federal indictment unsealed in May charged Carman with first-degree murder for allegedly killing his mother at sea during a 2016 fishing trip, as well as fraud counts related to his effort to obtain inheritance and insurance funds.
The indictment also alleges that Carman shot and killed his wealthy grandfather, John Chakalos, 87, at his home in Windsor, Conn., in 2013 but doesn’t charge him with that slaying, which would be a state crime.
Carman had dinner with his grandfather the night before his death and was the last known person to see him alive, according to a police affidavit. Carman was supposed to meet his mother a few hours later but never showed up and did not answer his phone, the affidavit said.
Investigators learned that Carman had purchased a Sig Sauer semiautomatic rifle in New Hampshire that was the same caliber as the weapon used in the slaying, which he did not disclose to police., according to court filings.
After the murder, Carman received approximately $550,000 from his grandfather’s estate, authorities said. But, prosecutors allege he killed his mother because he wanted more. Chakalos, a real estate developer, left a $44 million estate to his four daughters, including Carman’s mother.
In September 2016, Carman and his mother set sail from Point Judith, R.I., for a fishing trip on his 31-foot aluminum boat, the Chicken Pox. A week later, he was alone when he was rescued from a life raft about 115 miles off Martha’s Vineyard. His mother was never found and is presumed dead.
Prosecutors allege that he deliberately sabotaged the boat as part of a premeditated plan to kill his mother, then claimed it sank accidentally.
On Tuesday, Assistant US Attorney Nathanael Burris offered new details about the government’s case against Carman. He told the judge that Carman’s grandfather had been supporting him but threatened to cut him off financially if he failed to keep his grades up in college.
Two days before Chakalos was murdered, Carman received his grades for the semester at Northwestern Connecticut Community College, which showed he flunked every subject, Burris said.
Carman “knew what his grandfather would do,” Burris said.
Carman also had a strained relationship with his mother leading up to her death, prompting her to cut him out of her will, Burris said. Carman refused to call her, or even tell her where he was living, prompting her to hire a private investigator to track him down, he said.
Carman’s lawyers countered that he loved his mother and grandfather, didn’t benefit from their deaths, and has been falsely accused of killing them by authorities and “greedy” family members who want to prevent him from claiming any inheritance.
Sara Puls, a lawyer who represents Carman, said he “has managed to live a quiet life” since buying his Vermont home eight years ago, attends Bible study at a local church, and makes a living buying construction materials online and reselling them at a profit.
She disputed the prosecution’s claim that Carman had a strained relationship with his mother and said they were planning a luxury cruise to the Galapagos Islands. She noted that Connecticut authorities have never charged Carman with his grandfather’s slaying.
Carman’s father, meanwhile, pleaded for his son’s release. In a letter filed in court on Monday, Earle Clark Carman described his son as “a responsible young man who poses no ongoing mental health issues” and is only interested in proving his innocence.
But prosecutors said the father, who lives in California, doesn’t know his son and admitted during a 2018 deposition that he had only seen him once between 2013 and 2016, when he picked him up after he was rescued at sea by a freighter and returned to Boston.
Crawford noted that the killing of Carman’s grandfather “has not been solved, at least to the satisfaction of Connecticut authorities.” But he said there was significant evidence linking Carman to his mother’s death, including modifications he made to his boat that made it unseaworthy before setting out on the fishing trip.
Carman filed an $85,000 insurance claim for the loss of his boat. Two insurance companies sued him, alleging he had made faulty repairs that caused the boat to sink. After a 2019 civil trial in Rhode Island, a federal judge found that Carman’s modifications caused the boat to sink, but made no findings on whether they were done deliberately.
During that trial, Carman testified that he and his mother were trolling for fish about 100 miles offshore in an area off Long Island when the boat began taking on water and sank suddenly. He said he yelled for his mother but didn’t see or hear her.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.