Vt. AG to review insanity cases

Published: 6/6/2019 10:08:00 PM
Modified: 6/6/2019 10:07:49 PM

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has asked Attorney General TJ Donovan to review a Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s decision to dismiss charges in three major cases that included the insanity defense.

Prosecutor Sarah George announced on Tuesday that she was dropping charges in two high-profile murder cases and one attempted murder case after determining there was not enough evidence to rebut the defendants’ planned insanity defenses. The individuals whose charges were dropped are: Louis Fortier, charged with a murder on Church Street in Burlington in March 2017; Aita Gurung, charged for murdering his wife in October 2017 with a meat cleaver in Burlington; and Veronica Lewis, charged with attempted murder for shooting her firearms instructor in 2015 in Westford, Vt.

The victim in that case, Darryl Montague, survived despite being shot several times. Montague lived in Claremont then but had a family home in Westford, where he ran a firearms business. Police said Lewis had gone there for a lesson.

Scott’s letter to Donovan, dated Wednesday, described the cases as “among the most violent crimes committed in Vermont in recent memory” and stated that with their dismissal, the Department of Corrections will not be able to supervise the perpetrators after their release.

“From a layperson’s perspective, and certainly as Governor, I’m at a loss as to the logic or strategy behind this decision to drop all charges — especially considering the fact that the State’s Attorney is aware the Department of Mental Health has no legal authority to continue to keep individuals hospitalized when they do not meet the legal criteria for hospital level of care,” Scott wrote.

Scott wrote that he wanted Donovan to request a thorough review and determine if his office should refile the charges in any or all of the cases.

“The top priority of government is public safety, and I certainly don’t take this obligation lightly. A civil society cannot function properly when a heinous violent crime is not properly adjudicated, and the public is put at risk,” Scott wrote. Donovan and George could not be immediately reached for comment.

Prior to being elected attorney general, Donovan served as Chittenden County State’s Attorney.

In announcing the dismissal of the cases, George said each of the defendants had submitted opinions from psychiatrists that they were insane at the time of the crime, and that the state received evidence from each of a long history of major mental illness diagnoses and previous psychiatric hospitalizations.

In an interview on Wednesday, George told VTDigger that the state did not have the evidence to rebut the insanity defense in any of the cases.

“We don’t have a forensic psychiatrist who found, or opinionated, that these three individuals were sane at the time,” George said. “And it’s my belief as an officer of the court and in my ethical obligations as a prosecutor, I cannot go to trial on a case I know that I know we do not have expert testimony to rebut the defense.”

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