BARRE — The Washington County State’s Attorney is challenging a judge’s decision to allow a bail review hearing involving a Montpelier man accused of attempted murder.
The victim in the case also testified, saying what she went through last year was “like a horror movie.”
State’s Attorney Rory Thibault is planning to appeal Judge Kirstin K. Schoonover’s decision to allow a bail review hearing for Tyreke Morton, 19, to the state Supreme Court. Parts of the hearing took place Friday and the hearing will continue Tuesday.
Morton pleaded not guilty to two felony counts of attempted murder in November 2017. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Morton is being held without bail at Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport.
In July, Morton applied for youthful offender status. The state’s youthful offender law, which had been used for those under the age of 18, expanded on July 1 to include those who are 18 to 21 years old. Those in the program are placed on probation and supervised and treated by the Department of Corrections and the Department for Children and Families.
Once a motion is filed seeking youthful offender status, the case automatically moves from criminal court to the family court, becomes confidential and remains confidential unless a judge decides the case isn’t appropriate for youthful offender status. If the case is found inappropriate, it goes back to criminal court.
Friday’s hearing was unusual because it was held in public in criminal court where the case originated, not in the family court, despite the fact that the case is still pending determination for youthful offender status. That’s because Morton’s attorney, Dawn Seibert, of the Defender General’s office, has filed a motion asking for Morton to be released on conditions.
Judge Schoonover presided over Friday’s hearing over Thibault’s objection. He said the case has not been transferred back to the criminal court so it should not get a hearing in the criminal court, meaning Schoonover didn’t have the jurisdiction to oversee such a hearing. Thibault said if Morton wants a bail review hearing, which can only happen in the criminal court because that’s where he was ordered held without bail, then he could withdraw his motion seeking youthful offender status.
Thibault said when the Legislature expanded the youthful offender law, it likely didn’t take into account serious cases such as someone charged with attempted murder where someone could be held without bail, which is why there is no mechanism in the youthful offender statute to deal with a bail review hearing.
“While this is a policy matter and not where we’re at, I think there’s significant confusion among the drafters of the legislation that we have about the scope of cases that are properly before the court in this setting,” he said.
Seibert said it was clear to her that Thibault was “on a crusade” to roll back the youthful offender law. But she said his issues with the law are policy ones that should be taken up with the Legislature and aren’t on trial now.
“The problem with the state’s attorney’s position in this case is that his animosity toward the fact that my client is even eligible for youthful offender treatment has really blinded him to the realities of this case,” she said.
Thibault said it was beneath anyone at the Defender General’s office to make a personal attack against a state’s attorney because of policy reasons. He said Washington County has seen more petitions for youthful offender status than any other county and his office’s opposition has been limited to violent felony cases like Morton’s.
Schoonover said she didn’t read the law as saying a case being considered for youthful offender status has to withdraw its motion and be moved back to the criminal court in order for conditions of release or bail to be adjusted. She decided to move forward with the hearing and denied Thibault’s motion to have the hearing halted in order to ask the Supreme Court to take up the question of jurisdiction. After the hearing, Thibault said he’s planning on reaching out to the state’s highest court Tuesday for clarification.
Detective Sgt. Michael Kamerling, of the Vermont State Police, said in his affidavit a family fight was reported on Center Road in Calais shortly before midnight.
The caller told police his mother had called him screaming that she was in danger. The caller told police Morton was at the woman’s residence and was out of control. Kamerling said the victim then called 911 and reported Morton had stabbed her.
Kamerling said Morton was found at the scene and when police searched him they found a piece of glass that was 6 inches long and 4 inches wide. The victim was found in a home across the street from where Morton was located and Kamerling said she had a stab wound in the upper right part of her chest. He said the woman’s 3-year-old son was with her and he was covered in blood, but he appeared to be uninjured.
The victim told police Morton had been living at her home on and off for the past week and a half. She told police he started acting strangely. The victim said she was on the phone talking to a family member about Morton’s behavior when he knocked on her door, opened it and stabbed her in the chest with a steak knife.
The victim said in court Friday releasing Morton would be “an incredibly terrible decision. I think this person is dangerous.”
She talked about how Morton attacked her and her son, saying to them he had to kill them both. She said she was thankful she was able to get Morton out of the room and lock the door before she and her child escaped the house.
“It was like a horror movie,” she said.