Convicted murderer transferred from mental health facility to prison

Published: Nov. 29, 2022 at 11:28 AM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - A Burlington man convicted of killing his wife with a meat cleaver in 2017 will now be moved from a mental health facility to prison.

During a court hearing Tuesday, mental health officials testified that Aita Gurung is ready for the move after a jury this month determined he was legally sane at the time of the crime. But the judge maintains a psychiatric facility is where Gurung really belongs.

“I’ve indicated that for many reasons, that’s where I’d like to see him reside, but that’s not in the power of this court as far as I know,” said Vermont Superior Court Judge John Pacht. He says he is skeptical Gurung will receive adequate psychiatric treatment in prison. “He’s not going to get the same therapeutic support, obviously through a DOC custody that he got through DMH. But it’s very important to the court that the medication that he’s been on remain consistent.”

While Judge Pacht disagrees with the mental health department’s decision, corrections officials attest Gurung’s move will be smooth. “We’ve been planning and meeting about him for the last two weeks,” said Colleen Nilsen, the DOC’s chief of mental health. “We’re prepared to continue the same treatment and the same medications that he was receiving in the hospital, obviously it’s in a correctional setting.”

Gurung won’t join the general prison population though. He’ll get his own cell in the Southern State Correctional Facility‘s 10-bed acute mental health unit, with access to a psychiatric provider, recreational therapist, and nursing staff. Then, if doctors conclude his symptoms are stable, he will step down to a 24-bed, secure residential unit at the Springfield facility.

“Someone can have -- and remain having -- a mental illness and not meet hospitalization criteria, which is where Mr. Gurung is,” said Karen Barber with the Department of Mental Health. She says Gurung isn’t actively in crisis and no longer requires the acute inpatient hospitalization he has been receiving since, the highest level of Vermont’s mental health care system. “There’s nothing that’s not available at DOC that he needs special. We feel confident that the DOC mental health providers are capable of meeting all of his treatment needs.”

State officials also say if Gurung’s psychiatric symptoms escalate, he can be transferred back into a hospital setting. Gurung is expected to be formally sentenced early next year.

Aita Gurung will await sentencing for the first degree murder of his wife behind bars rather than a psychiatric facility.
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