“I’m feeling very relieved.”
It’s a feeling Chittenden County state’s attorney Sarah George shares with Vermont State Police Captain Garry Scott the day after Steven Bourgoin was found guilty on five counts of second-degree murder, among other charges.
George sat at the prosecution’s table, questioned witnesses for eleven days of trial and two days of deliberation.
Capt. Scott sat in the back row of the courtroom gallery every day.
Between them were family members of Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown; Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; Janie Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; and Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury, who died in the wrong-way crash on I-89 in October 2016.
To take on a case this big, to find justice for the five teenagers killed while driving home from a concert, prosecutors Sarah George and Susan Hardin lived and breathed it for months.
“Probably working 100 hours a week on the case. I was here 6am – 10pm most days, including weekends, just nonstop,” said George, in her office in Burlington. “I felt prepared at every step of the way. I think that shows.”
George said one of the biggest challenges was balancing the law and the defendant’s rights with community expectations.
“Making sure that Mr. Bourgoin’s rights were being protected at all costs despite a lot of pressure to make sure there was convictions no matter what,” she said.
George says she finds it insulting that a mistrial motion was filed in the middle of the trial.
Defense attorney Robert Katims alleged that George did not tell the defense about an interview she conducted with Bourgoin’s ex-fiance.
It is likely to come up at an appeal Katims says he will file.
“It’s, as a prosecutor, the worst thing you can be accused of, and I know that I did not keep it from them,” she said.
Katims did not respond to Local 22 & Local 44 News’ request for an interview Thursday.
Through all the long hours and legal ups and downs, George had one moment in mind: the verdict and hugging the families of the teenagers.
“It was important to me to make sure that they were the first people that were getting my attention and my hugs and that was something that meant a lot to me,” George said with tears in her eyes. “To be able to actually turn around and have them all right there looking at me and give them those hugs that I’ve been wanting to give them for months was incredibly special.”
Capt. Scott said he attended the trial so he could be available for prosecutors if they needed him.
Also, it was personal.
His involvement in the case began within two hours of the crashes.
“I was there that night. I know what he did,” said Capt. Scott.
He remembers the fires, the way it smelled, and most viscerally, the destruction.
“This is etched in my mind forever. This will never leave,” he said. “I’ve investigated and been part of investigations of large 18 wheelers that have been involved in significant fatal collisions and this was worse than any of that.”
Capt. Scott says he worked a few hundred hours on the case throughout the years.
He started off as incident commander on scene, helped oversee some of the crash reconstruction and then helped prepare VSP members for testimony as the trial approached.
“All of the work we put into it and what he did, this is the right outcome,” he said of the guilty verdicts.
Both Capt. Scott and George say one of the bright spots in all of this was getting to know the teens’ families.
“I don’t think I could have been as strong as they were. They’re amazing,” said Capt. Scott. “They’re really beautiful people and it’s been great to learn about their children through them,” said George.
George said she doesn’t know yet what her office will recommend for Bourgoin’s sentence later this year.
He faces between twenty years and life in prison.
“Mr. Bourgoin is a human being and putting somebody in jail for the rest of their life at such a young age is not something I can take lightly,” she said. “I also fully recognize that, whether he intended to strike the Jetta, which I believe he did, he certainly didn’t know there were 5 teenagers in that car. But that’s the risk he took.”