Burlington man pleads not guilty in deadly cleaver attack

Published: Oct. 13, 2017 at 11:02 AM EDT
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A Burlington man who police say murdered his wife and seriously injured his mother-in-law in a cleaver attack pleaded not guilty to the charges Friday.

"I'm sad. I feel sad. Before, they are good. He loved her too much. Yesterday, what happened, I don't know," said Chitrakhar Poudel, a cousin of Yogeswari Khadka, who died in Thursday's gruesome attack at her own home.

Chitrakhar Poudel: I say sister, brother.

Reporter Tyler Dumont: You were close?

Chitrakhar Poudel: Yeah, we are close.

Khadka, 32, was an employee at the Comfort Inn hotel. Her relatives say she came to the U.S. about two years ago as a refugee from Nepal and lived with her husband, Aita Gurung, 34, at a home on Hyde Street.

"These were folks that kept to themselves, that were quiet," said Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo.

Authorities say Gurung voluntarily spent nearly a week at the UVM Medical Center seeking help with mental health, before checking himself out Thursday afternoon.

"The victim, Ms. Khadka, came and picked him up sometime around noon -- maybe between noon and 1, so that's an approximation. Drove him back to the residence, between 1 and 2, and at 2:30 he's alleged to have murdered his wife," del Pozo said.

Prosecutors described the scene as a bloodbath, after a brutal attack with a meat cleaver. Police say cellphone videos from witnesses show Gurung holding the 10-inch blade and yelling "she betrayed me" during the attack.

"That sidewalk was covered in blood, the house was covered in blood," Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George said.

Gurung is now charged with first-degree murder for his wife's death. He also faces a first-degree attempted murder charge for allegedly hacking his 54-year-old live-in mother-in-law, Tulasa Rimal.

"It looks like Ms. Rimal will survive her injuries. She's in stable condition at the hospital right now," del Pozo said.

The couple's 8-year-old daughter wasn't home at the time of the alleged attack. Khadka's cousin says the two were married for more than a decade, and Gurung used to work in construction in Nepal before entering a refugee camp. His work status in Vermont is unclear, but Poudel says he struggled with his mental health in the past.

"Before, he tried to suicide-- on his own," she said.

Police say the couple's 8-year-old daughter is now staying with her grandfather. Authorities spoke with him, but say they're still unsure about an exact motive.

Gurung entered pleas of not guilty and is now in the custody of the Department of Mental Health for a sanity and competency evaluation.