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Department of Justice

U.S. Attorney's Office
District of Vermont
Nikolas Kerest, United States Attorney
For Immediate Release
Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Seven Defendants Sentenced for Drug and Firearm Offenses Related to 2019 Burlington Murder

Burlington, Vt. – The United States Attorney’s Office announced that seven defendants have been sentenced in connection with drug and firearm charges related to the murder of Benzel Hampton on April 16, 2019, concluding today with the sentencing of James Felix. All seven defendants previously pleaded guilty to charges including conspiracy to distribute cocaine base, cocaine, and heroin, and conspiracy to use a firearm during and in relation to a drug conspiracy.

According to court records, in late 2018, Lesine Woodson came to Vermont from Orlando, Florida, to sell cocaine base in partnership with Benzel Hampton, who was also from Orlando. Shortly after arriving in Vermont, Woodson refused to use the profits of the partnership’s drug sales to pay Hampton’s bail after Hampton was arrested and then attempted to take over the business of selling to Hampton’s Burlington-area drug customers. Woodson’s actions started a feud between she and Hampton, eventually leading to the murder of Hampton.

Woodson brought several individuals to Vermont from Orlando, Florida, including her 18-year-old cousin, Brandon Sanders, her boyfriend, James Felix, and her childhood friend, Johnny Ford. During early 2019, the group sold cocaine base in and around Burlington and lived in an apartment located on Lafountain Street in Burlington that served as the base of operations for the drug and firearm conspiracies for which they have been convicted. Jennifer MacDonald and Devlin Koski worked for Woodson selling cocaine base on her behalf.

The feud between Woodson and Hampton reached its apex on April 16, 2019, after Hampton sent a text message referring to Ford and stating, “this is my city” and “checkmate.” After receiving the message, Felix and his co-conspirators borrowed a drug customer’s car, and Felix and Ford retrieved firearms. The group located Hampton at 235 North Willard Street, the residence of a drug customer of both Woodson and Hampton. Ford, Felix and Sanders waited for Hampton near the door to 235 North Willard Street. When Hampton walked out of the building, Felix tackled Hampton. Hampton, too, was armed and shooting began. Both Ford and Felix shot Hampton. Felix was also shot several times. Ford, Felix, Woodson and Sanders fled while Hampton died of his wounds. Three .380 caliber bullets shot by Ford were found in Hampton’s body, causing fatal wounds to his chest and his head, and one .22 caliber bullet shot by Felix – causing a non-fatal wound – was found in Hampton’s head.

Woodson and Felix were arrested after Felix was taken to UVM Medical Center. Angelina Pearson and another individual discarded the firearms in a wooded area in South Burlington, Vermont, where they were later located by police. Pearson and Sanders were arrested the following day during a motor vehicle stop on Interstate 95 in Enfield, Connecticut. Ford was arrested at a motel in Enfield, Connecticut, where law enforcement found more than 100 combined grams of heroin, cocaine and cocaine base, along with more than $17,000 of U.S. currency.

United States District Judge Christina Reiss imposed the following sentences, each followed by a three-year term of federal supervised release, which were advised by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines:

    Johnny Ford – 180 months (15 years)
    James Felix – 138 months
    Lesine Woodson – 89 months
    Brandon Sanders – 49 months
    Angelina Pearson – Time Served
    Jennifer MacDonald – Time Served
    Devlin Koski – Time Served

U.S. Attorney Nikolas P. Kerest stated: “This violent, drug-involved crime occurred in the middle of the day in Burlington as children and their parents walked home from school. It is exactly the kind of horrific and disruptive crime that we work every day to eradicate. This particular case was complex and required significant collaboration between the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Burlington Police Department, and the Enfield Police Department. I am thankful for and applaud that collaboration and the determined efforts of all of our law enforcement partners who worked to solve this crime and who go to work every day seeking to make Vermont a safer place to live. You can be sure that as long as violent crime persists in the District of Vermont, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to expend significant resources in this area.”

ATF Boston Field Division Special Agent in Charge James Ferguson stated: “These case results represent the epitome of law enforcement agencies working together to target and dismantle violent drug traffickers that threaten the safety and stability of our neighborhoods. The citizens of Burlington and all of Vermont have the right to a life free from gun crime. We hope our neighbors sleep a little sounder knowing ATF will never falter in our commitment to work with our local, state and federal partners to attack these dealers and remove violent criminals from our neighborhoods.”

DEA New England Field Division SAC Brian D. Boyle stated: “DEA is committed to dismantling violent drug trafficking organizations. As we all know, drug trafficking in our communities, along with the gun and physical violence that often accompanies it, is a serious threat to our families and communities. This is unacceptable and will not be allowed to happen. DEA and its local, state and federal partners are dedicated to bringing to justice those that commit these crimes.”

Burlington Police Department Chief John Murad stated: “This was a horrible crime. Murder is rare but when it does arrive we seek justice. I want to acknowledge the amazing work done by all our officers on scene. I am always humbled by the men and women of the BPD for the work they do for the city and the communities they serve. I want to thank and acknowledge our detectives who put a tremendous amount of time and resources into this investigation. We are grateful for our federal partners and especially thankful for the United States Attorney’s Office for stepping up and taking on such a complex case. And we are continuously thankful to our fellow law enforcement partners for working together throughout this case – this collaboration was vital.”

The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nate Burris and Paul Van de Graaf. Johnny Ford was represented by Natasha Sen, Esq. and Heather Ross, Esq. James Felix was represented by David Sleigh, Esq. Lesine Woodson was represented by Peter Langrock, Esq. and William Vasiliou, Esq. Brandon Sanders was represented by Mark Oettinger, Esq. Angelina Pearson was represented by John-Claude Charbonneau, Esq. Jennifer MacDonald was represented by Robert Behrens, Esq. Devlin Koski was represented by Paul Volk, Esq.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department of Justice launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.


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