Jury deliberates in wrong-way crash murder case

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BURLINGTON — A Vermont Superior Court jury deliberated into Tuesday night but were unable to reach a verdict concerning a Williston man charged with killing five Mad River Valley teens during a wrong-way crash on Interstate 89 in Chittenden County in October 2016.

Deliberations will resume at 8:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, has denied five counts of second degree murder.  He also has pleaded not guilty to two subsequent 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 crashing it into his truck at the first crash scene.

After 11 days of testimony, the jury finally got the case about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

The jury did ask in late afternoon to have a portion of the testimony of a psychiatrist played back.  After listening for nearly an hour to the playback the jury decided shortly before 6 p.m. to ask for menus to order dinner.

The jurors worked until 7:40 p.m. before sending a note to Judge Kevin Griffin that said they believed they were done for the night.  The judge called them back into the courtroom and let them leave.

Bourgoin was driving northbound in his 2012 Toyota Tacoma when he crashed into a southbound 2004 Volkswagen Jetta operated by Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016 in Williston.

The VW rolled into the median and burst into flames. Zschau and his passengers Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston and Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown died in the fiery crash, state police said. Four were trapped in the burning car, while Harris was ejected through a sun roof.

The defense team of Robert Katims and Sara Puls maintain Bourgoin was criminally insane due to a downward spiral in his life. Bourgoin did not take the stand in his defense, but relied mostly on the testimony of psychiatrists and some friends.

State's Attorney Sarah George and her deputy Susan Hardin have argued that Bourgoin knew what he was doing.

Judge Griffin began Tuesday dealing with a potential mistrial issue when he learned one juror had written a song about serving on the jury. The words were to the tune "Stuck in the Middle with You" by Stealers Wheel, but talked about being stuck on a jury.

After questioning two jurors, including the songwriter from Essex, the court was satisfied that no specific testimony or evidence from the case were part of the lyrics. The judge had told the jurors daily they could not discuss any aspects of the evidence until all testimony was complete.

Griffin then moved on to explain the intricacies of the law, including the requirements for a finding of insanity. In going through 22 pages of legal instructions, Griffin outlined all four possible verdicts, including Bourgoin could be guilty of a lesser offense — involuntary manslaughter.

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Griffin also discussed diminished capacity.

Six hours after the crash Bourgoin still had 10 nanograms of THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — in his system, the official drug report showed. A state judge ordered a blood draw of Bourgoin because of the level of impairment he displayed at the scene.

Any level of THC in a driver in Vermont is against the law, but then State's Attorney T. J. Donovan declined to file charges of driving under the influence with death resulting.

Second degree murder is punishable by 20 years to life in prison on each count.

The 10 women and six men that had heard the testimony, were reduced to eight women and four men. The four alternates — two women and two men — will remain at the courthouse out of sight in case something happens to one or more of the original 12.

The importance of alternates was driven home last month during another high profile criminal trial. A mistrial was declared April 12 due to juror misconduct in the trial of former State Sen. Norman McAllister, R-Franklin. Deliberations had started and Judge Michael Kupersmith had sent the alternates home so a replacement was unavailable. By coincidence, Katims also represented McAllister, who had denied the prohibited act charge.

Griffin said before the Bourgoin trial he planned to keep the alternates close by until the case was decided. The judge urged all 16 jurors to bring reading material or other items that could keep them busy if they became an alternate.

The case was reduced to a battle of expert doctors. Dr. David Rosmarin of Boston, was hired by the defense and said he found Bourgoin was insane at the time of the crash.

In an unusual twist, the state's expert, also found Bourgoin insane. Dr. Reena Kapoor of Yale University initially said she was skeptical of Bourgoin's claims when prosecutors hired her, but after extensive interviews and study she came to the same conclusion about insanity.

That forced George and Hardin to scramble to find a psychiatrist to support their case with the highly anticipated trial three months away. They hired Dr. Paul Cotton, a Burlington psychiatrist, on Jan. 31. Cotton testified Friday for the state he did not find any mental disease or defect, but the defense grilled him on Monday about his short examination and limited research and reading.

The state must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The defense has acknowledged Bourgoin was behind the wheel, but the state still was required to show it.

For insanity, a defendant only has to show it by a preponderance of the evidence — that it is more likely than not.

Bourgoin has maintained he thought he was part of a special unknown government mission. He said he received signals from his car radio, Morse Code messages from the statistic on his television and from the lights on an ATM. He also said he received a light signal to take the Williston Police cruiser.

After the crash Bourgoin believed the Saint Michael's College ambulance was part of getting him to his mission when it was only taking him to the hospital with life-threatening injuries.


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