BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) Chittenden County's top prosecutor is dropping murder and attempted murder charges in three big cases.
State's Attorney Sarah George says that in these cases, attorneys used the insanity defense, and now her office is dropping the charges. George believes all three are guilty, but will not pursue charges because the state can't prove all three were sane at the time of their crimes.
“Our review of the evidence indicates that Defendants have substantial admissible evidence to prove to a jury by a preponderance of the evidence that they were insane at the time the crimes were committed,” George said in a statement. “Despite retention of expert forensic psychiatrists who conducted thorough evaluations of Defendants, the State does not have sufficient evidence to rebut these insanity defenses.”
"The question for a prosecutor in any instance when they're looking at a possible charge is, 'Can I get a conviction in this case?'" Legal analyst Jerry O'Neill said. "It's unlikely that the state is going to get a conviction."
Veronica Lewis is accused of the 2015 shooting of her gun instructor in Westford after walking out of a mental health treatment facility in Worcester. Police say Louis Fortier in 2017 stabbed a homeless man to death on Church Street. Aita Gurung was charged with the 2017 killing of his wife with a meat cleaver.
George dropped the cases because the state was unable to prove defendants were sane at the time of the crimes.
"It's somewhat unusual, but again, the facts of these cases are unusual," O'Neill said. "What probably gets everyone's attention is that terrible nature of these crimes and also the decision that they made to drop all three of them at the same time."
O'Neill also describing what proof the state would need to convict. "The principle piece in every one of these cases is the same," he said. "The state needs to have a psychiatrist or psychiatrists who will examine the individual and will express the opinion that the person was, in fact, sane at the time of the offense."
O'Neill explained without a psychiatric evaluation, the prosecution's argument won't hold up. Without an argument from the prosecution, the case can't go to trial. He adds this can be a heartbreaking and confusing situation for victims' families. "For the survivors, it's so hard to understand why someone who killed someone who they loved and cared about or seriously injured them should not go to jail for the rest of their lives," O'Neill said. "The reality is they're not going to be convicted and there's no point in doing a criminal prosecution."
The state expects the Department of Health to keep these three defendants in custody until it determines they're no longer a threat to themselves or other people.