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.