Judge orders new mental health screening for alleged cleaver attacker

Published: Sep. 13, 2019 at 6:12 PM EDT
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A Burlington man accused of killing his wife with a cleaver and critically injuring his mother-in-law two years ago was back in court Friday to face new state charges after his insanity case was dropped by the Chittenden County prosecutor.

Attorney General T.J. Donovan Friday said that the dismissal of murder charges against Aita Gurung was premature and that a jury should be allowed to decide the outcome. He says the first-degree murder and attempted murder charges against Gurung are the most serious charges in the legal system and that the public and victims have a right to know what happened. A dismissal, he added, provides no accurate record of what took place in 2017.

Donovan says his office recently spoke with the victim's family about their decision.

"They said one thing to us-- that they wanted the laws of our government to bring justice to their family. That's what we intend to do. We intend to prosecute this case through the court process as it is designed to work," he said.

Gurung's defense attorney, Sandra Lee, says the state already determined Gurung's case should be dismissed because they didn't have a case. She says court-ordered mental health professionals found Gurung was insane at the time of the incident. She says he has been in the custody of the Department of Mental Health since the murder in October 2017 and that his mental health is improving.

The judge ordered Gurung to be held without bail after a new mental health screening. If he is determined to not need hospital-level care, Gurung will stay behind bars until his next court appearance.

Lee says that is not good for Gurung's treatment plan and she believes there was another reason charges were refiled.

"To have to go through this process where, quite honestly, it feels very politicized in the manner in which this case even came back. It is very disturbing and should be upsetting for any citizen who believes in fairness and justice," she said.

Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George put out a statement late Friday saying, in part: " ... My dismissal was based on all of the available evidence, our current laws, and my ethical obligations as an officer of the court. It does not appear that any of these factors have changed in any way since my dismissal."

Donovan says he respects George's decision to drop the charges but says no matter the outcome, this case needs to be tried in court.

Donovan's review of George's two other dropped insanity cases remains uncertain. Veronica Lewis was charged in the 2015 shooting of Darryl Montague at his Westford home. She was recently recharged with federal weapons violations and is in federal custody. There is also the case of Louis Fortier who was accused in the 2017 stabbing death of Richard Medina in Burlington.