BURLINGTON — A Springfield, Mass. man, implicated in a double homicide in Windham County four years ago, has struck a deal with federal prosecutors over a felony gun charge and appears on the verge of resolving the state criminal case, court records show.
Justin Orwat, 50, has signed a federal plea agreement that will result in a 7-1/2 year sentence for being at least a two-time convicted felon in possession of a .45-caliber firearm and ammunition on Oct. 27, 2017 – the day of the double homicide in Townshend, court records show.
As part of the federal plea agreement, Orwat stipulated to certain facts, including that he gunned down Steven Lovely, 43, and Amanda Sanderson, 35, in a cabin in Townshend on Oct. 27, 2017.
Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver has charged Orwat with two counts of aggravated murder and one count of first degree arson for burning down the cabin where the couple was staying at 163 Shirley Circle.
The 8-page federal plea agreement notes it is contingent upon Orwat entering into an agreement with the Windham County State’s Attorney’s Office that he will plead guilty to a manslaughter charge.
It is unclear what the proposed prison sentence would be imposed for Orwat for the manslaughter case. The plea agreement does note the state sentence would be served first, followed by the 90-month federal sentence. Once discharged from federal prison, he will be under supervised release for 3 years, the plea agreement said.
Defense lawyer Dan Sedon of Chelsea confirmed the case is moving toward resolution with a single involuntary manslaughter charge. Sedon declined to elaborate on the state plea agreement because nothing had been filed and said it was appropriate for the judge to read it first.
Shriver was out of the office on Friday. Deputy State’s Attorney Steven M. Brown, the case’s co-prosecutor, said he would not discuss the substance of plea negotiations, but said the state expects to have some relevant filings later this month.
The federal gun charge notes 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 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.
Orwat is being held without bail at the Southern State Correctional Facility in Springfield.
There is no known date for Orwat’s first appearance in federal court. Orwat has agreed to waive formal indictment by a federal grand jury and has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge filed by a prosecutor, the plea agreement said.
The gun case carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He also could be ordered to make restitution.
The double homicide in Windham County also has connections to some drug distribution cases spread across Southern Vermont. At least 10 defendants were charged with felony drug and/or gun charges in federal court in Vermont as part of the wide-spread investigation. Several other people have faced state drug charges.
According to a court affidavit, Justin 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.
Tami Orwat shared with police that they all used heroin, cocaine, bath salts, marijuana, and Klonopin together at a home 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 while he talked with Lovely, according to an affidavit.
Tami Orwat told police she heard gunshots followed by arguing, then she fled the scene with her husband.
Lovely was a major drug source in Southern Vermont and was followed by a nephew, court records show.
A defense lawyer for Brenden A. Fournier, 27, said he wrongly decided to follow in the footsteps of his drug-dealing uncle after he was fatally shot. Fournier had a misplaced sense of loyalty to his uncle and unfortunately decided to take over the drug business in Southern Vermont, the lawyer noted in federal court.
Fournier and two old friends from high school from the Holyoke, Mass. area were subsequently arrested and convicted in federal court in Vermont. They were responsible for distributing an estimated 6,000 bags of heroin a week before they were arrested in Bennington County, court papers show.
Fournier received a 5-year federal prison term in November 2019, while Jonathan “Bovice” Resto, 27, was handed a 3-year sentence as part of the drug conspiracy case.
A third co-defendant, Anthony “Ant” Casiano, 26, from Easthampton, Mass. received a 15-month federal prison sentence for possession with intent to distribute fentanyl.
They were found with almost 1,100 bags of fentanyl when arrested in 2017 in Manchester, court records show. The three men used Manchester area motel rooms as their base of operations, records show. Also found was a safe with 22 grams of cocaine, digital scales and a drug ledger, investigators said. The ledger had names or initials and amounts. A lock box with $4,180 in U.S. currency also was seized.