Vermont Business Magazine Attorney General TJ Donovan told Governor Phil Scott in a letter dated today that he will investigate cases against three individuals who were arrested for brutal crimes, including murder, but whose cases were dismissed under the insanity defense by the state's attorney.
State's Attorney Sarah George declined to prosecute the cases, she announced May 31, because she concluded that the prosecution could not overcome the insanity defense each had presented in order to make a criminal conviction. The dismissals stunned the community and the governor, who then asked the attorney general to look into the cases.
Aita Gurung was arrested for allegedly killing his wife with a meat clever and injuring his mother-in-law in Burlington and charged with first degree murder and attempted first degree murder in October 2017. Louis Fortier was arrested for first degree murder after allegedly stabbing a man to death on Church Street in Burlington in March 2017, in what was described as a random act. And Veronica Lewis was charged with attempted first degree murder in June 2015 for allegedly shooting her firearms instructor, who survived the attack.
For her part, George was taken back by the response from the governor and called it "insulting." She said the governor did not contact her before making his comments public.
George wrote at the time of the dismissals: "In order to obtain a conviction after an initial showing by defense that Defendant was legally insane at the time of the offenses, the State must rebut the issue of insanity with admissible evidence that tends to show Defendant was sane at the time of the alleged offense. The issue is then ultimately decided by a jury. However, if the State does not have sufficient evidence to rebut Defense counsel's evidence that Defendant was insane at the time of the offense, it is the State's belief that they have a prosecutorial duty not to go forward with the charge."
All three had been evaluated and judged legally insane, in their opinion, by psychiatrists.
She said the three will be in the custody of the Department of Mental Health. However, because of that, their care and ultimate liberty, if any, will be kept private.
Attorney General Donovan in his letter today said, "My office will conduct a thorough, independent review of the dismissed cases and determine whether new charges should be filed."
However, he also was stepping carefully in regards to the state's attorney: "Respect for the rule of law and due process requires certain deference to the State’s Attorney’s work. This deference is crucial to maintaining public trust in our democratic systems and institutions.
"That said, I share your concerns about public safety. I believe that public safety is the first responsibility of government. In the matters at hand, I trust that the Departments of Public Safety and Mental Health will carry out their duties consistent with their statutory authority. My office will also do its part."