BURLINGTON — The fate of a Williston man charged with killing five Central Vermont teenagers during a wrong-way crash on Interstate 89 in Chittenden County 2½ years ago will be put into the hands of a jury on Tuesday.
The main issue for the jurors is whether Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, was criminally insane when he drove his speeding northbound 2012 Toyota Tacoma into a southbound 2004 Volkswagen Jetta on I-89 in Williston about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016. The defense has acknowledged he was behind the wheel, but said Bourgoin was insane.
Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George in her closing arguments said Bourgoin did not have a mental disease or defect needed under Vermont law to establish an insanity defense.
“He deflects blame and is worried about himself,” George said.
Defense lawyer Robert Katims argued that two highly respected psychiatrists testified Bourgoin was criminally insane under the law.
Katims noted Dr. David Rosmarin, of Boston, was hired by the defense and issued his findings after extensive interviews and work. Dr. Reena Kapoor of Yale University was hired by the prosecution and was skeptical of Bourgoin’s story, but after almost 13 hours of interviews she told prosecutors in late January she also believed he was insane.
That left prosecutors scrambling and they hired Dr. Paul Cotton, a Burlington psychiatrist, on Jan. 31 in an effort to save its case. Cotton testified Friday for the state he did not find any mental disease or defect.
Cotton was grilled for a few hours on Monday — Day 11 of testimony — by Katims, who tried to discredit him. Cotton did acknowledge that he had not reviewed or studied the findings by the two doctors or read their depositions in making his determination of sanity.
Cotton, who said he charged $400 an hour for private consulting, also acknowledged at one point a draft of his recent report had included a finding of an acute stress disorder but later struck reference to that disease from the final report on Bourgoin.
“He may have had an acute psychotic disorder at the time of the offenses,” Cotton said about the now-deleted passage.
Under questioning from George, Cotton said he considered some supporting documents from the UVM Medical Center personnel, including three psychiatrists who saw him briefly in the days after the crash while being treated for life-threatening injuries.
Cotton said he put greater emphasis on his four-hour interview with Bourgoin on Dec. 1, 2016, at the state prison in Springfield.
Katims asked Cotton when he was hired four months ago whether he ever sought an updated interview with Bourgoin so a more complete picture would be obtained before giving his final opinion. He said he did not. He was satisfied with his information.
Bourgoin has pleaded not guilty to the five counts of second-degree murder. He also has denied two subsequent 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 crashing it into his truck at the first crash scene.
The Volkswagen driver, Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown, and 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 and Harris, who was in the center backseat, was ejected through a sun roof as the Volkswagen rolled into the median, police said.
Closing arguments lasted until about 5:10 p.m. Judge Kevin Griffin told the jury he had hoped they would have received the case earlier in the afternoon, but he would wait until Tuesday morning to outline the law and to send them to deliberate. He urged them to get a good night of sleep.
Four alternates will be selected from the 10 women and six men before deliberations, but Griffin plans to keep the alternates at the courthouse and available in case a problem develops with the any of the other 12.
While the state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, a defendant only has to show insanity by a preponderance of the evidence. Katims said that means only one grain of sand above 50 percent.
The only other witness was Lorenzo Whitcomb of Williston, who has a farm in Essex Junction. He confirmed he had a sign on his farm for Casella Organic that included a toll-free 800 number.
Earlier testimony, including cell tower evidence, had placed Bourgoin in the Essex Junction cornfield on Oct. 7, 2016, the night before the crash – and he had dialed the number. There also was testimony Bourgoin told doctors he had crawled through a culvert and disposed of his cell phone and also tossed his cellphone into the nearby Winooski River.
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 statistic on his television and from the lights on an ATM. He also said he received a sign to take the Williston Police cruiser. Bourgoin also indicated that he thought a St. Michael’s College Rescue squad member was part of the mission when she was attending to him in the ambulance.