Jury finds Burlington man guilty of 2017 murder

Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 2:51 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - After four days of deliberation, a Burlington jury Thursday afternoon found Aita Gurung guilty of the 2017 murder of his wife, saying he did not meet the insanity defense threshold.

The jury convicted Gurung of first-degree murder in the killing of his wife, Yogeswari Khadka, and attempted second-degree murder in the attack on his mother-in-law, Talasa Rimal.

“It’s uncontested that this horrible thing happened -- he knows it has -- but he also knows that he was not well, that his mind was not working, and that he would have never done this if his mind was working,” Defense attorney Sandra Lee said, describing her conversation with Gurung following the verdict. She says they plan to appeal the verdict and that the complexity of the case may have impacted the jury’s decision. “It is very difficult to look very carefully at what our severe mental illness and all the different types of psychosis that there is and to try to weigh that and really understand that when it is not something that you understand thoroughly and completely.”

After three weeks of testimony from family, law enforcement, and medical experts, the jury deliberated for four days. On Thursday, they reviewed more than an hour of testimony from Dr. William Horn, a forensic psychiatrist who treated Gurung in the days leading up to the murder.

Forensic psychologist Tom Powell -- who was not involved in the case -- says jurors were given a difficult task in weighing the evidence. “We have to remember that jurors are people and they have to process through their own cognitive methods what this all means,” he said.

Assistant Attorney General Rose Kennedy prosecuted the case and says the verdict is justice for the victims, Yogeswari Khadka and Talasa Rimal. “We felt like their story was lacking from the beginning of this case and we were just really pleased to be able to put that in front of a jury and let them learn about these very brave and courageous women,” she said.

The case against Gurung -- and suspects in two other insanity-defense cases -- was dropped by Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George back in 2019, only to be picked up soon after again by the Vermont Attorney General’s Office following pressure from the Scott administration. Gurung and Louis Fortier were charged with murder. Veronica Lewis was charged with attempted murder. At the time, George said she believed all three were guilty but she couldn’t prove they were sane at the time of the crimes.

Governor Phil Scott late Thursday issued a statement expressing sympathy to the family of the victims and thanking prosecutors. “I want to extend my sincere appreciation to the Attorney General’s Office – both under former Attorney General T.J. Donovan and current Attorney General Susanne Young – for stepping in and diligently prosecuting this case. The criminal division in the Attorney General’s Office worked incredibly hard to deliver justice and deserve our appreciation for their good work,” Scott said. “The primary responsibility of any government is public safety. And that means we cannot allow violent criminals to potentially walk free. This case – and the victims – deserved their day in court. Justice was served.”

When asked for her reaction to the verdict, Sarah George said she is still deciding whether to issue a statement.

Gurung will for now continue to be treated in Vermont’s mental health system as opposed to prison. His sentencing has not been scheduled.

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