Justin Orwat, of Springfield, Mass., appeared in Windham County Superior Court/Criminal Division on charges of aggravated murder and first-degree arson on Monday, Dec. 18, 2017.

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BURLINGTON — Almost four years to the day he shot and killed two people in Townshend, Justin Orwat, 50, pleaded guilty in federal court to a felony gun charge with a sentence of 7-and-a-half years.

His federal sentence is contingent on pleading guilty in state court to one count of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Amanda Sanderson, 35.

According to a plea agreement submitted to the Windham Superior Court, Criminal Division, Orwat’s sentence on that charge is 15 years, with four years credit for time served.

He was originally charged in state court with two counts of aggravated murder and one count of arson.

When Orwat is released from state custody in 2032, he will be turned over to the federal government to serve his 90-month sentence.

Deputy State’s Attorney Steven Brown had no comment on the sentencing in federal court.

Orwat was accused of shooting and killing Sanderson and her boyfriend, Steven Lovely, 43, in a cabin in Townshend. According to court documents, Orwat set fire to the cabin at 163 Shirley Circle to cover up the deaths.

“On or about Oct. 27 you shot and killed Steven Lovely and Amanda Sanderson in their residence ...” stated Judge William Sessions during the hearing, using a 45 caliber firearm and ammunition that came from out of the state.

“In a nutshell, that is what happened,” said Orwat, who agreed to be sentenced via Zoom, rather than in person.

Once he is released from prison, when he is 69 years old, Orwat will be subject to three years of supervised release.

According to the federal plea agreement, Orwat has felony convictions for manslaughter in 1998 in Hampden (Mass.) Superior Court and an assault and battery on a family or household member in 2015 in Springfield (Mass.) District Court.

Orwat, a former Neta Gang member, was also sentenced to serve a 10- to 15-year sentence for manslaughter in connection with the February 1995 fatal shooting of a member of a rival gang known as La Familia, Massachusetts Parole records show.

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Since his arrest following the killings in Townshend, Orwat has been held without bail at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.

No date has yet been set for his plea hearing in Brattleboro.

Orwat’s wife, Tami Orwat, told police that Lovely and Sanderson were squatting in the cabin in Townshend and that she and her husband had been staying there with them. Police said the two couples had been living there together for about two weeks.

According to a court documents, Lovely was a major source of drugs in Southern Vermont.

Tami Orwat shared with police that before the shootings they all used heroin, cocaine, bath salts, marijuana, and Klonopin together at the home of Christopher Paige in Bellows Falls, and that Lovely was “boisterous concerning his knowledge that someone had been stealing from him,” records show.

Tami Orwat told police she believed Lovely blamed her husband for the theft. She said her husband told her to stay in the bedroom of the cabin while he talked with Lovely, according to an affidavit.

Tami Orwat told police she heard gunshots before fleeing from the scene with her husband.

Following the deaths of Lovely and Sanderson, nearly 10 people were swept up in a drug investigation, including Paige, who was arrested about three weeks after the killings . He was sentenced in October 2019 to 102 months in federal prison on one count of possessing with intent to distribute more than 40 grams of a substance containing fentanyl and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Also swept up in the drug busts was Lovely’s nephew, Brenden A. Fournier, who was sentenced in 2019 to five years in federal prison after admitting to continuing his uncle’s drug dealing following the shootings.

Fournier, Jonathan Resto, and Anthony Casiano, who all attended high school together in the Holyoke, Mass., area, were arrested in Manchester in late 2017, in possession of almost 1,100 bags of fentanyl. Resto was sentenced to three years and Casiano received a 15-month sentence.

According to court documents, they were responsible for distributing an estimated 6,000 bags of heroin a week before they were arrested.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.