Man accused of shooting plot released on bail
Jack Sawyer, the 18-year-old accused of plotting to kill students at Fair Haven Union High School, has been released into the custody of his father.
Sawyer's bail was reduced Wednesday by a Rutland County Superior Criminal Court judge from $100,000 to $10,000 after prosecutors dropped two counts of attempted aggravated murder, and charges of attempted first-degree murder and attempted aggravated assault with a weapon. That left two remaining misdemeanors for criminal threatening and carrying a dangerous weapon with the avowed purpose to commit serious injury or death.
Kelly Green, his public defender, has said the case is now "hanging by a thread."
At the time of Sawyer's arrest on Feb. 15, authorities said he had plans to cause "mass casualties" at Fair Haven Union High School. They cited his purchase of a shotgun and ammunition in Rutland days before his arrest as showing intent to carrying out the shooting.
Green said by email that Sawyer will receive treatment while his case is litigated. She has been working to secure an inpatient treatment bed at the Brattleboro Retreat or another facility.
"On behalf of Jack, we are asking the community to be supportive of his lovely family and to give him privacy to recover and return to health," Green said.
At a hearing last week, Green asked to have Sawyer released to the custody of his father, David Sawyer of Poultney. Sawyer's mother lives in Florida with his stepfather, David Wolk, the former president of Castleton University.
Judge Thomas Zonay set strict conditions for Sawyer should he post bail, including that he be released into the custody of his father and abide by a 24-hour curfew, leaving the residence only under the "eyeball" supervision of his father.
The judge also ordered other conditions on Sawyer's release including that he is prohibited from venturing onto any school property, and he must stay out of the town of Fair Haven. He also cannot use or possess "any device" with internet capabilities.
Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement that the state is taking precautions to protect the Fair Haven community.
"As I've said, I am extremely concerned and frustrated that our current laws have allowed for the release of an individual who - as the Court record shows - intended, and may still intend, to carry out a horrific crime," Scott said. "Since we first learned of his potential release on bail, my priority has been to do all we can do to enhance the safety of the Fair Haven school and community, and we stand ready to do so."
Scott said the Vermont Attorney General and the Vermont State Police have obtained an extreme risk protection order, which prohibits Sawyer from possessing or purchasing firearms. Judge Cortland Corsones signed off on extending the first extreme risk protection order under a new law that took effect earlier this month.
A temporary order was issued about two weeks ago, allowing law enforcement to seize any weapons Sawyer may have, even though he was in jail at the time of the order. Prosecutors said they sought it out of concern that Sawyer soon would have the opportunity to post bail and be released.
The state police are working with Sawyer's family who have been cooperative; and troopers are communicating with school officials and coordinating with the Fair Haven Police Department on safety issues, according to a press release from the Scott administration.
Sawyer was initially ordered held without bail following his arrest in mid-February on attempted murder charges.
However, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that, in Vermont case law, merely planning to commit a crime did not meet the standard for him to be charged with an attempt to commit a crime. The ruling meant Sawyer could no longer be held without bail, and it cast doubt on the felony charges against him.
Though Judge Zonay had set bail at $100,000 at a hearing last week, the prosecutors' subsequent decision to drop the felony charges, saying the Supreme Court ruling had made continued prosecution on those counts "untenable," led to the hearing Wednesday morning.
Green said her client has been "extremely cooperative" with the judicial process.
Sawyer's attorneys have contended that the case was overcharged from the beginning. They said it should have been handled as a mental health matter.
The governor and lawmakers have pushed to change Vermont's criminal attempt law in response to the Supreme Court's decision determining that Sawyer's plan did not constitute an attempt to commit a crime under existing laws.
The new attempt law is based on a "substantial step analysis" that would allow police to intervene — and prosecutors to build an attempt case — earlier in the chain of events before a crime is carried out.
Law enforcement officials have complained that the current law only allows them to take action when someone is on the verge of committing a crime.
The bill has spurred concerns from legislators that the threshold for what constitutes an attempt is too low and that the potential sentences are too high. A House vote on the bill was postponed until May 1.
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