Man charged with murder in 2019 Vermont death

SEARSBURG, Vt. (AP) — Vermont State Police have arrested a man on a murder charge in the 2019 death of a woman following the identification of her jawbone and other remains found in a gravel pit.

Deven Moffitt, 32, of Bennington was taken into custody on a second-degree murder charge on Wednesday in the death of Jessica Hildenbrandt, 43, of Ballston Spa, New York, police said in a news release.

Detectives determined that Hildenbrandt and Moffitt had been in a relationship while Moffitt was incarcerated in Vermont on a previous conviction, police said.

Moffitt has been jailed without bail and was scheduled for an arraignment Thursday afternoon. It was not immediately known if he had an attorney.

Police said their investigation goes back to Sept. 17, 2019, when a man reported finding what appeared to be a human jawbone at a gravel pit in Searsburg. Police eventually found more remains at the site.

In July 2020, the Vermont Forensic Laboratory identified the remains as those of Hildenbrandt through DNA analysis. The Vermont Chief Medical Examiner’s Office ruled her death a homicide that September.

In March 2019, Hildenbrandt reported to the Windsor County State’s Attorney’s Office and later to state police that she feared for her life if Moffitt were to be released from prison, police said. A detective interviewed Hildenbrandt, but she ultimately stopped cooperating with the investigation, and law enforcement was unable to pursue the matter further, police said in the news release.

“In the course of the complex, lengthy investigation, detectives spoke with numerous witnesses and associates of Hildenbrandt and Moffitt; analyzed cellphone calling, text-message and location data; executed digital search warrants; and reviewed call records from the Department of Corrections," the news release said.

After the discovery and identification of Hildenbrandt’s remains, the Vermont State Police learned that Hildenbrandt had posted bail for Moffitt on July 8, 2019, in a newly filed criminal case. Evidence in the Hildenbrandt case indicates she was killed in mid-July 2019, police said.