Should teen accused in school shooting plot face attempted murder charges?

Published: Apr. 3, 2018 at 10:03 AM EDT
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Does a plot to shoot up a school qualify as an attempt? That's the question before the Vermont Supreme Court as lawyers for the accused teen say the charges don't fit this case.

Jack Sawyer, 18, was not in court Tuesday as three Vermont Supreme Court Justices heard arguments in his case. At issue-- whether his alleged plot to shoot up his former high school crossed the line into attempted aggravated murder.

"This court has held consistently and repeatedly that preparation, generally speaking, cannot satisfy the act element of the attempt offense," defense attorney Marshall Pahl said.

Sawyer's lawyer told the Vermont Supreme Court justices that even though the teen made preparations for a shooting at Fair Haven Union High School, he didn't actually make an attempt. And that's why they're appealing the lower court judge's decision to hold Sawyer without bail.

"None of the offenses that Mr. Sawyer is charged with did he commit. He did not commit attempted aggravated murder, he did not commit attempted murder, he did not commit attempted aggravated assault," Pahl said.

But the state disagrees.

"We have such clear intent," Rutland County State's Attorney Rosemary Kennedy said.

The state says Sawyer did take the steps that justify the bail ruling. They cite evidence in the journal he allegedly kept, detailing his plot and purchases of guns.

"Mr. Sawyer is very clear that his intent is to kill as many kids, as many students as possible at Fair Haven Union High School," Kennedy said.

The state says even if Sawyer threw his guns away and went back to Maine, under Vermont case law he would still be guilty.

"If we are told we have to wait till this young man shows up on campus with his arsenal, we are not talking about an attempt anymore. People will die," Kennedy said.

But the defense said the charges are too serious for a plot where an attempt was never made.

"In terms of the punishment that is the most serious offense we have in the state of Vermont, if Mr. Sawyer is convicted of aggravated murder he will automatically be sentenced to life in prison," Paul said.

It's now up to the justices to decide whether Sawyer's actions qualify as attempted murder. There's no timetable for when that decision may come out.