BURLINGTON — A Vermont Superior Court jury deliberated into Tuesday night in a case concerning a Williston man charged with killing five Mad River Valley teens during a wrong-way crash on Interstate 89.
Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, has denied five counts of second degree murder. He also has pleaded not guilty to two subsequent misdemeanor charges: aggravated operation without permission for taking a Williston Police cruiser from the crash site, and reckless driving for crashing it into his truck at the first crash scene.
After 11 days of testimony, the jury finally got the case at about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
The jury asked late Tuesday afternoon to have a portion of the testimony of a psychiatrist played back. After listening for nearly an hour to the playback, the jury decided shortly before 6 p.m. to ask for menus to order dinner.
The jurors worked through the day. Judge Kevin Griffin sent them home for the night shortly before 8 p.m. Deliberations will continue Wednesday.
Police say Bourgoin was driving north with drugs in his system when he crashed into the car operated by Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown, at about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016 in Williston.
The teens’ car rolled into the median and burst into flames. Zschau and his passengers, Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston, and Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown, died in the fiery crash, state police said. Four were trapped in the burning car, while Harris was ejected through a sun roof.
The defense team of Robert Katims and Sara Puls maintain Bourgoin was criminally insane due to a downward spiral in his life. Bourgoin did not take the stand in his defense, but relied mostly on the testimony of psychiatrists and some friends.
State’s Attorney Sarah George and her deputy Susan Hardin have argued that Bourgoin knew what he was doing.
Griffin began Tuesday dealing with a potential mistrial issue when he learned one juror had written a song about serving on the jury. The words were to the tune “Stuck in the Middle with You” by Stealers Wheel, but talked about being stuck on a jury.
After questioning two jurors, including the songwriter from Essex, the court was satisfied that no specific testimony or evidence from the case were part of the lyrics. The judge had told the jurors daily they could not discuss any aspects of the evidence until all testimony was complete.
Griffin then moved on to explain the intricacies of the law, including the requirements for a finding of insanity. In going through 22 pages of legal instructions, Griffin outlined all four possible verdicts, including Bourgoin could be guilty of a lesser offense — involuntary manslaughter.
Griffin also discussed diminished capacity.
Second-degree murder is punishable by 20 years to life in prison on each count.
The 10 women and six men that had heard the testimony were reduced to eight women and four men. The four alternates — two women and two men — will remain at the courthouse out of sight in case something happens to one or more of the original 12.
The importance of alternates was driven home last month during another high profile criminal trial. A mistrial was declared April 12 due to juror misconduct in the trial of former State Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin. Deliberations had started and Judge Michael Kupersmith had sent the alternates home so a replacement was unavailable. By coincidence, Katims also represented McAllister, who had denied a prohibited act charge.
Griffin said before the Bourgoin trial he planned to keep the alternates close by until the case was decided. The judge urged all 16 jurors to bring reading material or other items that could keep them busy if they became an alternate.
The case was reduced to a battle of expert doctors. Dr. David Rosmarin, of Boston, was hired by the defense and said he found Bourgoin was insane at the time of the crash.
In an unusual twist, the state’s expert also found Bourgoin insane. Dr. Reena Kapoor, of Yale University, initially said she was skeptical of Bourgoin’s claims when prosecutors hired her, but after extensive interviews and study, she came to the same conclusion about insanity.
That forced George and Hardin to scramble to find a psychiatrist to support their case with the highly anticipated trial three months away. They hired Dr. Paul Cotton, a Burlington psychiatrist, on Jan. 31. Cotton testified Friday for the state he did not find any mental disease or defect in Bourgoin, but the defense grilled him on Monday about his comparatively short examination and limited research and reading.
The state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense has acknowledged Bourgoin was behind the wheel, but the state still was required to show it.
For insanity, a defendant only has to show it by a preponderance of the evidence.
Bourgoin has maintained he thought he was part of a special unknown government mission. He said he received signals from his car radio, Morse Code messages from the static on his television and from the lights on an ATM. He also said he received a light signal to take the Williston Police cruiser.
After the crash, Bourgoin believed the St. Michael’s College ambulance was part of getting him to his mission when it was only taking him to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.
MONTPELIER — Abortion-rights advocates gathered outside the State House Tuesday evening to join the national fight against tough new laws in some states aimed at challenging the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, that established a woman’s legal right to an abortion.
About 300 people gathered to hear from more than half dozen speakers who each urged action to mobilize against efforts to overturn the 1973 landmark decision, following the recent appointment of Justice Brett Cavanaugh, giving the Supreme Court a conservative majority.
Critics have said recent decisions by Alabama to effectively ban abortion altogether and other bills in Ohio, Louisiana and Missouri to prevent abortions as soon as a baby’s heartbeat is detected in the early stages of pregnancy are likely to lead to a challenge of Roe v. Wade.
In Vermont, supporters of abortion rights have hailed Republican Gov. Phil Scott for being pro choice and not standing in the way of House bill H.57, which seeks to guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion in the Vermont Constitution.
That was reiterated Tuesday evening.
“The Governor is pro choice, and as he has emphasized throughout this discussion, he understands the calls to codify choice protections in some way,” said spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley in an email Tuesday. “Given these considerations and the strong support for H.57 in the Legislature, he’s said he will not veto the bill — it will become law. I’d also note that we have not yet received the bill from the Legislature at this time.”
The Legislature also approved a constitutional amendment to protect the reproductive rights of women. If approved by the legislature next year, as well as by voters, Vermont would make history by becoming the first state to do so.
On Tuesday, abortion-rights advocates were both focused on supporting Vermont’s lead on abortion protections and fighting for the same rights in other states nationwide.
Paige Feeser, the public affairs organizer for Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, said Tuesday’s event was one of 350 around the nation and five in Vermont to fight “extremists who have passed 16 abortion bans in the last five months.”
“This is not just an attack on the people in Missouri or Georgia or Alabama, this is an attack on all of us,” Feeser said. “This is an attack on everyone who might or can get pregnant.”
Meagan Gallagher, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, noted: “Last week, the governor of Alabama signed a law that would sentence doctors up to 99 years in jail for performing abortions. And then, across this country, people said, ‘Enough.’”
Gallagher said one in four women in the nation will have an abortion in their lifetime. Banning abortion wouldn’t stop abortion, she said. It would stop safe abortion and impact low-income and people of color.
“Abortion is health care, and health care is a human right,” she said, and hailed Vermont’s H.57, adding, “From Vermont, we are sending a particularly powerful message.”
Other speakers included Rev. Joan Javier-Duval of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Montpelier, who said she was a mother who had also had to have a miscarriage removed. Even as a church minister, she said she recognized women’s rights to reproductive freedom.
She also had criticism for conservatives who refused to compromise on reproductive rights.
“In my view, it is bad theology to claim a concern for the sanctity of life on the one hand while ignoring children dying at the border, trans women murdered on the streets, the continued defunding of public education, and fossil-fuel-induced ecological catastrophe on the other,” she said.
Other women spoke of their own agonies of having to seek abortion, because they were too young to be parents or because of medical complications and expressed relief that safe abortion was available.
“I never want a politician at my bedside when I make fiercely personal health care decisions,” said Kelsey Crelin, who hailed the passing of H.57. “I’m already proud to live in Vermont and I will be even prouder when this bill becomes law.”
The social justice partners involved in Tuesday’s rally included: the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont; Women’s March Vermont; #VOTEPROCHOICE; the Rutland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington; Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence; Pride Center of Vermont; and the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington.
EAST MONTPELIER — The whirlwind search for an interim superintendent of a supervisory union that will soon cease to exist is nearing an end. The two finalists — Debra Taylor and Donald Van Nostrand — will spend Thursday hopscotching around the five-town, six-school Washington Central Supervisory Union before settling down for back-to-back interviews by an executive committee whose last official act may be recommending which one should be hired.
The final decision is expected to be made by the supervisory union board when it meets next Wednesday at U-32 Middle and High School.
Unless something changes, the supervisory union, its board and the executive committee will all become functionally obsolete on July 1. That’s when whoever is hired next week will start work and when the 10-member board collectively elected by voters in Berlin, Calais, East Montpelier, Middlesex and Worcester on Tuesday will assume operational responsibility of a new pre-K-12 school district.
Taylor and Van Nostrand separated themselves from a field of 12 applicants for the interim job Superintendent Bill Kimball has held for the last seven years. In March, Kimball announced he had accepted the job of assistant superintendent in the St. Albans-based Maple Run Unified School District and would be stepping down on June 30.
Confronted with Kimball’s looming departure and in the midst of uncertainty involving a state-ordered merger, school officials launched a consultant-led search for someone willing to serve as superintendent for one year.
Working with members of the executive committee, consultant Mark Andrews narrowed the field, and a 10-member committee that included a mix of board members, teachers, administrators and central office staff interviewed three candidates last week. Taylor and Van Nostrand were recommended as finalists by the group.
Both have experience as Vermont superintendents, both have doctorate degrees and both started their educational careers elsewhere before coming to the Green Mountain State.
Taylor, who is currently employed as superintendent of the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Union, has the longer resume. She got her start as a special educator in Virginia in 1978 and briefly moved to Vermont in 1980 to take a job as a consulting teacher in the Lamoille North Supervisory Union.
Taylor didn’t stay long. In 1982, she moved to Wisconsin to work for Fleet Mortgage for three years and spent the next 23 years working as an administrator in public education there.
Taylor returned to Vermont — and Lamoille North — when she was hired to take over as superintendent of the Hyde Park-based supervisory union in 2008. She left that job in 2011 when she was hired as superintendent of the Rutland Central Supervisory Union in 2011. During her tenure, Taylor helped facilitate a voluntary merger that collapsed two supervisory unions — Rutland Central and Rutland Southwest — into the Greater Rutland County Supervisory Unions, merging eight districts into four.
A 1974 graduate of Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut, Taylor earned her masters degree in special education from George Washington University in 1979, and her doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2003.
While Taylor is currently employed as a superintendent, Van Nostrand has been before and is in the running for what would be his third straight interim job.
Now completing his one-year assignment as interim principal at one of Burlington’s elementary schools, Van Nostrand spent the previous year serving as interim superintendent of the Grand Isle Supervisory Union. That supervisory union has the same five-town, six-school structure as Washington Central.
Prior to taking the interim job in Grand Isle, Van Nostrand served as superintendent of the Orleans Central Supervisory Union in Barton for three years. Like Washington Central, that supervisory union has been ordered to merge July 1. It includes six elementary schools, a unified pre-kindergarten program and a union high school — Lake Region.
Van Nostrand, who started his career teaching math in New Hampshire in 1996, left the classroom to take a job as a high school assistant principal there in 2003.
Van Nostrand came to Vermont in 2005 when he was hired as the principal for the Waterford School in the Essex-Caledonia Supervisory Union. He remained in that position for eight years before being promoted to serve as the supervisory union’s assistant superintendent of curriculum instruction. A year later he was hired as Orleans Central superintendent in 2014.
A 1995 graduate of the State University of New York at Potsdam, Van Nostrand earned his masters degree in education from the University of New England Biddeford in Maine in 2001 and his doctorate in philosophy from Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire in 2015.
EAST MONTPELIER — A lame duck School Board embraced the beginning of its end on Monday.
Though East Montpelier school directors will meet two more times before surrendering operational responsibility of their pre-K-6 school system on July 1, Monday’s meeting marked the last time they’ll huddle in the library at East Montpelier Elementary School.
That explained the five hanging flower baskets — one for each board member — that were waiting when they arrived and the five framed photographs signed by the school’s faculty and staff that each unwrapped as the meeting was drawing to a close.
It also explained the parting gift they gave Principal Alicia Lyford and the parting message they agreed to relay to a new 10-member board that was elected Tuesday.
That board will soon assume responsibility for elementary schools in East Montpelier, Berlin, Calais, Middlesex and Worcester, as well as jointly owned U-32 Middle and High School.
Two members of the East Montpelier board were expected to be elected to the new merged board on Tuesday and one of them — Chairwoman Flor Diaz-Smith — urged members to send a tone-setting message to the panel that will meet for the first time this afternoon at U-32.
School directors struggled some with the wording, before ultimately settling on a brief expression of appreciation and a little well-wishing.
Though Diaz-Smith was initially looking for something more than “thanks for serving” and “good luck,” she accepted that her call for an expression of “support” was more than fellow board members felt comfortable with.
School Director Stephen Looke was one of them.
Looke was a strong proponent of the supervisory union-wide merger years before it was ordered by the state, but said he would reserve support for a board that hadn’t yet been elected or seated until after he had something specific to react to.
“I don’t know what’s been proposed yet,” he said. “I might not support it.”
Looke and others said they were comfortable communicating their shared hope that the new board will maintain strong schools and build on the work of the boards it will replace.
“‘Thanks for being willing to carry on the work and good luck,’” Looke said, taking a stab at language befitting a passing of the torch.
The brief conversation occurred during a somewhat melancholy meeting held on the eve of Tuesday’s first-ever election in the Washington Central Unified Union School District.
“This is a sad day for me,” Lyford said, thanking board members for their service.
The feeling of impending ending was evident from the outset. School Director Lindy Johnson, who, like Diaz-Smith, was running unopposed to represent East Montpelier on the new board, got it going when she wondered whether members should take their name placards home with them.
Lyford, who sat in for Superintendent Bill Kimball, said she didn’t see why not because they wouldn’t be used again.
The board’s next two meetings — one to weigh in on the hiring of an interim superintendent and the other to determine how much projected fund balance to squirrel away in a capital fund for the local school — will be held at U-32.
Barring an unexpected development, the only other time the board will meet will be to accept the audit for the soon-to-end fiscal year before disbanding.
“It’s trying to feel like summer. And that means getting out and enjoying all that Vermont has to offer. One of those ways is hitting the trails.”
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Compost Basics Workshop
Learn about managing food scraps and how-to use food scraps as a resource in your own yard. Everyone goes home with a starter kit. 6-7:15 p.m. Rumney Elementary School, 433 Shady Rill Rd, Middlesex, email@example.com, 802-229-9383.