BURLINGTON — A Vermont Superior Court jury found Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, of Williston guilty on five counts of second-degree murder for killing five Mad River Valley teens during a wrong-way crash on Interstate 89 in Chittenden County in October 2016.
Bourgoin showed no emotion and said nothing as each verdict was read.
Bourgoin’s defense team maintained he was criminally insane at the time he drove his northbound 2012 Toyota Tacoma into a southbound 2004 Volkswagen Jetta on I-89 in Williston about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016.
The jury rejected the insanity claim on each count.
The eight women and four men on the jury also found Bourgoin guilty on two post-crash misdemeanor charges: aggravated operation of a Williston Police cruiser without permission by taking it from the accident site and later reckless driving of the police vehicle by returning to the scene and slamming it into his truck.
The jury, which heard 11 days of testimony, deliberated eight hours on Tuesday and four hours on Wednesday before returning the verdicts shortly after 1 p.m.
Later several family members of the victims expressed thanks to various people: prosecutors, police, the community and media. A few requested the focus now turn from Bourgoin back to the five innocent teens killed in the crash.
“We’d like it to be about the kids now and no more about Steven Bourgoin. They were beautiful kids,” said Sarah Zschau standing next to her husband, Chris.
“At least he isn’t going to hurt anybody else’s kids now,” she said.
Their son, Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown, was the driver of the Volkswagen that was struck. Also killed were passengers Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston and Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown. They were coming home from a concert in South Burlington.
As the jury filed back into the courtroom with the verdict, family members of the victims were holding 8-by-10 inch glossy photographs of the teens.
Judge Kevin Griffin had agreed with a defense request that the pictures not be shown to the jurors during opening statements by the prosecution.
After the verdict was announced, Griffin gave defense lawyers Robert Katims and Sara Pulls 30 days to file any post-trial motions.
Griffin told State’s Attorney Sarah George and her deputy Susan Hardin they would have 14 days to respond to any defense motions.
“Steven obviously is disappointed in the verdict. We’re disappointed in the verdict. We respect the verdict, but we are disappointed,” Katims said outside the courtroom.
“We think we presented overwhelming medical evidence with regard to the sanity issue. And we are disappointed that the jury found otherwise,” he said.
Katims said the defense plans to appeal on several legal issues, including the court’s refusal to grant a mistrial midway through the trial. The defense had requested the mistrial on grounds the prosecution had failed to supply the defense a statement by Bourgoin’s ex-fiancé, Anila Lawrence.
While Griffin found there was a discovery violation by the prosecution, the judge said he thought it was not serious enough to warrant a mistrial. In the end he ordered the jury to disregard one statement Lawrence said Bourgoin made to her sometime after the crash.
For George and Hardin it was the ending they were seeking for a historic homicide case. The court case had the most homicide victims in Vermont history.
“I feel fantastic,” George said as she walked out of the courtroom.
“I am incredibly grateful for such a diligent and thoughtful jury. Really don’t know that we could have asked for a better, more focused jury than we received. They paid attention the entire time. They really obviously took their time deliberating. I appreciate that they took the time they needed to come to the verdict that they came to,” George said.
George said it was a rewarding experience getting to learn about the victims, whose lives ended too soon, and get to meet their families. She cited the “bravery and their courage to come here every day and listen to this evidence and to have gone through 2.5 years waiting for this day. I could not ask for a better outcome.”
George said she believes the jury focused on the people that had seen Bourgoin just before and after the crash. George downplayed the insanity finding in January by a psychiatrist initially hired by her office in a possible effort to offset the insanity finding by the defense expert.
Griffin said he also would order a pre-sentence investigation by the Vermont Probation and Parole Office.
Before the jury returned, Griffin addressed the packed courtroom and thanked those that had attended the trial for the dignity they had shown the process.
“It is clear to the court this jury has worked very, very hard and has been very diligent in undertaking an extraordinarily difficult case,” he said.
He asked the gallery to accept the verdict with dignity and in peace.
Security was beefed up in the courtroom for the verdict with Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin and six of his deputies, along with five court officers.
Chittenden County Deputy Sheriffs Thomas Oliver and Jared Adams, both in plainclothes, had transported Bourgoin back and forth each day to the Northwest State Correctional Facility in St. Albans. They sat in the first row behind Bourgoin’s during the trial as part of the courtroom security.
Griffin noted Bourgoin would continue to be held without bail.
Bourgoin faces 20 years to life for each of the second-degree murder convictions.
Katims had said in his opening statement that Bourgoin was at the wheel, but the issue would be sanity. The defense showed his life was spiraling downward in the weeks leading up to the crash. Two expert psychiatrists testified Bourgoin believed he was part of a secret government mission and that he was getting messages from lights on an ATM, the music on his car radio and Morse Code messages from television static.
Prosecutors said Bourgoin had usual lifetime issues. He was in a custody fight with his ex-fiancé over their daughter, he was facing a domestic assault charge, and trying to handle ongoing financial issues, including potential foreclosure and overdue bills.
BARRE — The rules aren’t completely clear and neither is the prize, but a competition that has yielded positive results in some mid-sized New England cities has been retooled for rural Vermont.
It’s called the “Working Communities Challenge” — a Green Mountain riff on the “Working Cities Challenge” the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston launched in Massachusetts six years ago and has since replicated in Connecticut and Rhode Island.
On Wednesday morning Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren joined Gov. Phil Scott in the crowded lobby of the Barre Opera House to announce the roll-out of a program they said is being modified to reflect Vermont’s rural character and could serve as a template for neighboring New Hampshire and Maine.
“Vermont first,” Scott joked, during a presentation Rosengren said was necessarily short on specifics.
“We’re kind of building the plane while flying it,” Rosengren said of a challenge that initially targeted mid-sized post-industrial cities in southern New England — all with identified problems and a shared vision for solving them.
The format is easily transferable though some of the rules have to change and the size of the multi-year grants the winners will receive hasn’t been determined.
The three-year grants awarded to 16 cities from the three southern New England states that participated in the Working Cities Challenge ranged from $300,000 to $475,000 and helped leverage $11 million in additional investment.
Rosengren said the amount of the Vermont grants will be decided in coming months as criteria are refined and a 17-member steering committee readies to solicit proposals from communities across the state in the fall.
Steve Michon, who has been tasked by the Boston Fed to direct the Vermont challenge, said things will move swiftly from there. He said the steering committee will meet in December to evaluate the proposals and award up to six planning grants. By this time next year, he said three of those proposals will be awarded larger multi-year implementation grants along with technical assistance and other resources needed to advance their chosen project.
“We’re looking for big ideas,” he said.
Rosengren said it will be up to communities to identify a problem, agree on a solution and harness the support of municipal officials, community organizations and business leaders.
“You’re not going to win the challenge if you can’t come to some kind of agreement, because communities that can’t come to agreement about their own vision don’t prove to be particularly successful,” he said.
Scott said he welcomed an initiative that he believed would advance the goals reflected in his first executive order — growing the economy, making the state more affordable and protecting vulnerable Vermonters.
“We’re committed to helping communities thrive by bridging the gap between government agencies, the private sector and community-based organizations, and we’re thrilled to have Boston Fed’s Working Communities Challenge become another tool in the toolbox to help expand economic growth outside of Chittenden County,” he said, noting the state’s $100,000 investment has already leveraged $1 million in national, private and public funding.
Representatives of three of those funding partners — National Life Group Foundation, the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and NeighborWorks America — spoke briefly during a Wednesday presentation that opened with Ted Brady recalling the a Vermont group’s “Yes, but ...” reaction when the Boston Fed first floated the idea three years ago.
“What works in southern New England doesn’t work in rural Vermont,” Brady said. “What works in Burlington doesn’t work in rural Vermont.”
It wouldn’t be much of a competition if — as was the case with the “Working Cities Challenge” — participation were limited to communities with populations of at least 25,000 people.
In Vermont only Burlington would qualify and communities from Barre to Bennington where an infusion of outside funding and technical assistance could make a huge difference wouldn’t be permitted to participate.
Brady said the venue for Wednesday’s roll-out wasn’t an accident.
“We’re here in Barre because it personifies the program,” he said. “This community is experiencing a rebirth. This community has great leaders. This community has strong non-profit, strong government and strong business leaders. This community is investing in itself. What does it take to get to the next level? Leadership, collaboration and a common vision.”
Barre City Manager Steve Mackenzie, who only had to walk up one flight of City Hall stairs to attend the event, said he welcomed a chance to jump-start local revitalization efforts that he said have “plateaued.”
“Barre City is up to the challenge,” he said.
Scott reminded him it was a challenge and despite his love for the community where he was born and raised, Barre would have to submit a compelling proposal.
Rosengren stressed there is no right answer — proposals could address issues ranging from education to opioid addiction and pretty much everything in between.
“It’s not about the Boston Fed telling communities what they’re going to do,” he said. “It’s us facilitating communities figuring out what they should do for themselves and coming up with sustainable projects that really work.”
Beth Rusnock, president of the National Life Group Foundation, said she was sold on a concept that leverages out of state money to help solve problems facing Vermont communities.
“It’s an opportunity to build community by bringing people together, creating comprehensive, well-planned approaches to community needs,” she said.
Scott said the hope is the challenge will spark community-wide conversations across Vermont in coming months as word of the challenge spreads.
MONTPELIER — The Capital City is preparing for Bernie Sanders’ first political rally in the state as a 2020 presidential candidate, with crowds of 2,000 to 5,000 people expected on Saturday.
The event will include tributes to Sanders’ career in public service, and celebrate his impact in the state. There will also be music by singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, food vendors and other public services.
An earlier planned launch last fall on the Burlington waterfront, similar to the start of his campaign in 2016, was called off due to icy conditions and took place instead in Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up.
Saturday’s event will be confined to the State House lawn, with access via a number of entry points where campaign staff will “wand” people before entering, for security reasons, officials said.
Capitol Police Chief Matthew Romei said he had been working closely with the Montpelier Police Department, city officials and the campaign to coordinate the event.
“Fortunately, we have a wonderful working relationship down here at the Capital Complex with all of our public safety partners,” Romei said. “As soon as were notified this was happening, we’ve been in the planning cycle ever since, confident that we’ll be able to handle the expected crowd with very little difficulty.”
Romei said he did not expect any problems but was also keeping an eye on the weather, with the possibility of thunderstorms forecast.
“If it’s rain, it’s just miserable but if there’s thunderstorms, that’s definitely a dangerous environment,” Romei said. “But we have a (connection) with the National Weather Service and they’re very good at supporting these events for us on the public safety side and they’ll be giving us some forecast support as we get a little closer to the event.”
Romei and Montpelier Police Chief Tony Facos said they were not expecting the large crowds during the Women’s March Vermont in January 2017, which drew record numbers and forced police to shut down interstate exits to the city because of traffic and crowd-control problems
“We don’t see that in the tea leaves right now,” Romei said. “But quite frankly, it’s always in the back of our minds.
“We could see a big ramp up in interest in the event in the next couple of days, but we can handle 3,000 to 5,000 people on the State House lawn, readily.”
Romei said he thought the Legislature might close the 2019 session by the end of the week but was still awaiting confirmation.
“We got a little worried that they might decide they want to work on Saturday, which would open our building up and complicate some things in dealing with the rally,” Romei said. “But it’s not something we can’t deal with, it’s just another complexity.”
“We’re putting some extra people on and ensuring that everything happens smoothly, and everyone has a good time and things remain safe and orderly,” Facos said.
“We’re not expecting anything of the 2017 magnitude,” Facos said, referring to the Women’s March Vermont. “Rough estimates were well in excess of 20,000, maybe even 25,000 people. That was overwhelming and even impacted traffic on the interstate.
“But we’re certainly being flexible and prepared for between 3,000 and 7,000 people and able to accommodate all the security needs, working with all our partners which includes Capitol City Police and Buildings and General Services,” Facos added.
Attendees are asked to park at the Department of Labor building on Memorial Drive, Montpelier High School on Bailey Avenue and at National Life (however, there will be no shuttle buses into town).
State Street will be closed between Governor Aiken Avenue and Taylor Street. People with disabilities and special needs will be allowed to access state parking lots off State Street, Facos said.
Shannon Jackson, Northeast regional director for the Sanders campaign, said Sanders and campaign staff were excited to kick off the campaign in Vermont.
“We start at 2 o’clock, entrance opens at 12:30 p.m. and we are praying for good weather, but the show goes on, rain or shine,” Jackson said.
“We’re going to have music by (singer songwriter) Brandi Carlile — she’s a great supporter. We’re going to have some speakers highlighting the senator’s career in politics and especially in Vermont,” Jackson added.
Jackson noted that Sanders has been fighting for the same issues his entire political career, which include education, the environment, health care, a livable wage and human rights.
“He has an incredibly strong moral compass and that’s what sets him apart from most other politicians,” Jackson added. “The movement and the revolution that began with the 2016 campaign continues to grow and people are just flocking to it. I’m very encouraged that the issues that we raised in 2016 are being talked about by everybody. We’re getting the issues across and it’s a very needed and beautiful thing.”
“Some sociologists argue that (student) debt is such a game-changer, that young people today will focus more on finding lucrative careers than they will on finding partners and starting families.”
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