Gov. Scott seeks to keep Sawyer locked up

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Gov. Phil Scott says he is working with law enforcement and prosecutors to "identify any all legal avenues to keep" the keep Jack Sawyer, accused of planning to shoot up a high school in Fair Haven, in custody in light of a Vermont Supreme Court that could lead to his release.

The governor made the statement in a strongly worded release issued late Friday afternoon.

"Based on the evidence in the public record, it is clear the individual intended and still intends to carry out a horrific crime. I've heard from the school's superintendent as well as the Rutland County legislative delegation on the fear and frustration the community is feeling, and I share that frustration and concern," the governor said in the statement.

"I'm appalled," Scott added, "by Mr. Sawyer's potential release and I've instructed the Department of Public Safety and all agencies to do everything they can to assist the Rutland County State's Attorney in holding this individual accountable, help the Legislature close any loopholes in the law his defense attorneys exploit, and support the school and the community with additional law enforcement resources."

He said that his administration is working with county and state prosecutors as well as federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's office to "to identify any and all legal avenues to keep this individual in custody."

A three-justice panel of the state's highest court issued a ruling this week that says simply planning to do something doesn't meet the needed standard for making an attempt under Vermont case law. As a result, Sawyer may soon go free.

That's because all four charges against him, including attempted aggravated murder and attempted first-degree murder, all involves proving the element of an attempt, which the high court ruled had not been reached in this case.

As a result, Sawyer can no longer continue to be held without bail and his attorneys have filed a motion to immediately dismiss the charges.

The governor said in the statement that officials are working to muster support for Fair Haven.

"In total, nine law enforcement agencies, including state and local agencies in both Vermont and New York, are prepared to provide resources to the school and community and they are prepared to keep the school and community safe, should this individual be released," according to the governor.

"Beyond these immediate safety precautions, we are taking additional action at the state level," he added. "The mere possibility that someone with a clear intent to murder innocent children could be back on the street shows there is an unacceptable loophole in our current criminal law."

The next scheduled hearing in Sawyer's case isn't until April 27, though Kelly Green, a public defender representing him, wrote in the motion that the judge should release her client without the need of holding a hearing.

"Jack has been charged with four crimes, an essential element of each crime being that Jack attempted the crimes," Green wrote.

The Supreme Court, Green added, "has reviewed the evidence in this case" and "determined that Jack's acts do not constitute an attempt."

The ruling ended by stating, ""The Legislature can, if it chooses, deviate from this long-established standard by passing a law revising the definition of attempt."

Several legal experts have backed up the Supreme Court's decision, saying that preparation alone does not justify an "attempt" charge under Vermont case law.

In arguments last week before the three-justice panel, Rutland County State's Attorney Rose Kennedy said she believed that Sawyer had taken significant steps to warrant the charges.

Steps allegedly taken by Sawyer in planning the shooting included buying a shotgun and ammunition in Rutland days before his arrest, securing $500 in bitcoin online currency to anonymously buy a Glock 9mm handgun on the "dark web," and researching the school's calendar to pick a date, March 14

Kennedy added that if law enforcement had to wait until a school shooter entered the grounds of a school with an arsenal of weapons to justify an attempt charge, the consequences would be deadly.

Scott, in his statement, wrote that he is calling on the Legislature to "act quickly" to close "existing loopholes" relating to attempt charges and establish a domestic terrorism statute, which exist in other states — "and to so immediately and before Fair Haven High School Students return from their April vacation."

The governor also expressed concern for the safety of the 17-year-old girl who alerted police to conversations she had with Sawyer over Facebook messenger in which Sawyer talked of plans to carry out a shooting at Fair Haven high school.

Police say that tip played a central role in Sawyer's arrest in mid-February.

"I'm also concerned for the brave young woman who reported him," the governor said in his statement, "and I've directed the Department of Public Safety to ensure they have open and ongoing communication with law enforcement in her community."

On Thursday, Kennedy, the prosecutor, obtained an extreme risk protection order against Sawyer, the first such order under a law that was signed into law by the governor a day earlier. The order allows law enforcement to seize any firearms he may have following his possible release from jail.

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