Focus on defendant's mental state in fatal crash trial
BURLINGTON — A Williston man charged with killing five Central Vermont teens in a fiery car crash believed he was controlled by lights on an ATM, music from his car radio and the static on his TV sending him Morse code messages, a Boston area psychiatrist testified on Monday.
Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, was clearly insane at the time of the wrong-way crash in 2016 in Williston, Dr. David Rosmarin testified in Vermont Superior Court.
He said Bourgoin had mental health issues for much of his life, but he really took a spiral downward about a month before the fatal crash. Rosmarin said Bourgoin also thought he had been selected to be part of a secret government mission and he was getting all kinds of messages from various sources, including several electronic devices.
He also thought an emergency medical technician from St. Michael's Fire and Rescue was there to extricate him for the government mission while he was being taken by ambulance to the hospital for his serious injuries.
"He almost died," Rosmarin said about the injuries he received. They included a fractured spine, various facial fractures and a broken hip. He also had seizures due to his head injuries.
Rosmarin explained his professional diagnosis was based in part on two visits with Bourgoin in prison that totaled about nine hours. The doctor said he also had the benefit of various witness statements, police reports and the findings of a psychiatrist retained by the state that also found Bourgoin insane.
Asked if he read the report by the second psychiatrist, Dr. Rena Kapoor of Yale University, Rosmarin said he couldn't because the prosecution told her not to write a report after she indicated she would be siding with the defense.
Bourgoin has pleaded not guilty to five counts of second degree murder for crashing his northbound 2012 Toyota Tacoma truck into a southbound 2004 Volkswagen Jetta carrying the five teens on Interstate 89 in Williston about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016.
He also has denied two subsequent misdemeanor charges: aggravated operation of a Williston Police cruiser without permission and reckless driving of the police vehicle by crashing it into the first accident scene.
Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; and Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown were trapped in the burning car, state police said. They said Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown was ejected through the sunroof as the Volkswagen went off I-89 and rolled into the median.
Testimony indicated they are all believed to have died almost instantly from blunt force trauma.
The state dodged a bullet Monday when Judge Kevin Griffin denied a defense request for a mistrial on the grounds the prosecution failed to turn over all the case information as required.
The request, which came with the jury out of the courtroom, focused on testimony provided Friday by Bourgoin's former fianc , Amila Lawrence. She testified the defendant had told her at some point that there were no wrong way traffic signs on Interstate 89. Lawrence also testified that Bourgoin expressed interest in her studying of brain functioning.
Defense lawyer Robert Katims said both items were new information that had never been disclosed by the Chittenden County State's Attorney's Office before trial as required under the court rules. Katims in his mistrial motion said some of the information was "exceedingly prejudicial against the defendant."
He said an extensive search after court on Friday showed nothing had been provided and the mistrial motion was prepared.
State's Attorney Sarah George said she had met with Lawrence twice and that she gave a 75-minute recorded statement. During a later conversation Lawrence mentioned Bourgoin indicating there were no wrong way highway signs, said George, who is prosecuting the case with her deputy Susan Hardin.
George said she mentioned the no sign comment orally to the defense during meeting this spring and that the studying the brain information was contained in a CD that was put in a pickup mailbox for the defense at the courthouse.
Katims said the CD was never received. and the state acknowledged it never put a cover letter or any note with the CD or sent an email indicating that it was available for pickup.
George could not offer an explanation.
Katims, who is defending Bourgoin with public defender Sara Puls, said Lawrence gave an early statement to the defense, but was not cooperating and a decision was made not to seek her depositions before trial.
Griffin, a former public defender, said they could have taken a deposition.
The judge said he believes all four lawyers are ethical and it was hard to resolve the competing comments. He said say he found the discovery rule had been violated by the state's attorney's office, but he would not declare a mistrial.
Griffin did agree to strike the portion of testimony about the no wrong way signs and later instructed the jury to forget they had heard that testimony.
It took the first two hours of the sixth day of the trial to resolve the issue before Rosmarin was able to take the stand.
Bourgoin was trying to figure out what happened after the crash and was confused in the days leading up to it.
"He's terrified. He's grossly psychotic," Rosmarin said. He said Bourgoin was sleeping downstairs at his condo because he feared that it might get burned down by Homeland Security.
Bourgoin also made hand signals out the window of his truck to what he thought was a drone flying overhead.
"He thought his garage was bugged," the doctor said. Bourgoin also believed he was unable to share any information about the secret government mission because he was unsure who he could trust. Rosmarin said.
He did say Bourgoin never reported hearing voices. The doctor said that is often used by people who are faking. "They will add voices to fake it," he said.
The doctor also reported Bourgoin was not suicidal. "He has never tried to harm himself."
Bourgoin came from a split family and when his mother died of cancer when he was young, he went to live with an aunt, Rosmarin said. He said Bourgoin's father was an alcoholic.
Bourgoin lost two close friends, both women, one to an overdose and another to suicide. Bourgoin had trouble at home, including financial issues and he also assaulted Lawrence once in Massachusetts and later in Williston in May 2016.
Rosmarin also testified about Bourgoin going to the UVM Medical Center about 8:45 a.m. the morning of the crash to try to get medical assistance. The medical staff realized he was in crisis and needed mental help, but he apparently walked out without anybody noticing him leaving.
Burlington lawyer Tris Coffin of Downs Rachlin Martin law firm, which represents the hospital, was among those taking in the doctor's testimony. Hospital personnel, including security guards, are expected to take the stand sometime after Rosmarin wraps up.
Katims was still questioning Rosmarin as court ended for the day. The prosecution will get a chance to cross examine him when the defense is done.
The only other witness offered Monday was Kenna M. Johnston, who worked for 17 years as a crash reconstruction specialist at the Crash Lab Inc. in Hampton, New Hampshire. Johnston, who recently left the private company, was called to dispute comments from one state witness about how close she was when the initial crash happened.
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