File Pool Photo: Glenn Russell / Burlington Free Press
Jack Sawyer with defense attorney Kelly Green in court
Rutland County State's Attorney Rosemary Kennedy has dismissed the most serious charges against the former student who allegedly plotted a massacre at Fair Haven Union High School.
The decision, which comes after weeks of legal challenges, could pave the way for 18-year-old Jack Sawyer to soon be released from jail.
The move has seemed inevitable since April 11, when the Vermont Supreme Court overturned Judge Thomas Zonay's decision to hold Sawyer without bail on the charges — three counts of attempted murder and one count of attempted aggravated assault. He still faces two misdemeanor charges of criminal threatening and carrying a dangerous weapon.
In their ruling, justices said Sawyer's actions were "preparatory" and not "undertaken in the attempt to commit a crime."
In a Friday filing with the court dismissing the charges, Kennedy said the Supreme Court decision rendered the charges "untenable" and left her with "no choice."
Kennedy made clear she disagreed with the high court's interpretation. She also called on state lawmakers to toughen attempt laws, as they are contemplating doing.
"In cooperation with law enforcement, we believed that [Sawyer's] actions substantiated an attempt under Vermont law," Kennedy wrote in the court filing. "We take [Sawyer] at his word that he intends to commit a mass killing, that he has prepared to do so and that if unchecked, he will commit a mass killing."
Sawyer's attorneys have maintained from the beginning that there is no legal basis for the charges. They have argued there is no evidence that Sawyer attempted anything.
According to police affidavits, Sawyer bought a 12-gauge shotgun days before his February 14 arrest, made plans to shoot up the school in his personal journal and discussed his plans with a friend in New York who reported him to police.
"These charges never should have been brought in the first place," Sawyer's attorney, Kelly Green, said Monday. "All this fear and terror experienced by the community was in large part due to the explosive nature of the charges."
But Kennedy and Zonay left the most serious charges in place long enough to keep Sawyer behind bars for the past several days.
After the Vermont Supreme Court overturned his bail decision, Zonay was forced to issue a revised bail amount. The judge last week ordered Sawyer held on $100,000 — twice the amount Kennedy requested.
But with the felonies now dismissed, there will almost certainly be no legal basis to maintain that bail amount. Misdemeanor charges rarely warrant high cash bail, if any at all.
Additionally, Green said she is seeking to have the misdemeanors dismissed for lack of evidence. Both charges rely on unusual legal theories. On the criminal threatening charge, prosecutors allege that Sawyer conveyed a threat to shoot a school resource officer by candidly admitting his plans to police during a lengthy interrogation.
The carrying a deadly weapon charge, meanwhile, requires evidence that a defendant has a firearm and an “intent to injure.” Defense attorneys argue there is no evidence that Sawyer planned to do anything after buying the weapon, saying that the evidence surrounding his alleged plans pre-dates his shotgun purchase.
Sawyer is being held at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland.
In court last week, lawyers said they had arranged for Sawyer to receive treatment at the Brattleboro Retreat if he were released from jail.
A hearing has been scheduled for Wednesday in Rutland Superior Court.