Feds Charge Gun Range Shooter After State's Attorney Drops Case | Off Message

Feds Charge Gun Range Shooter After State's Attorney Drops Case


  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • Christina Nolan
Updated on June 13, 2019.

Federal prosecutors charged Veronica Lewis with firearms violations Tuesday, a week after Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George dropped attempted murder charges over doubts the state could prove Lewis was sane when she shot a firearms instructor in 2015.

Lewis was charged with illegally possessing a gun after being adjudicated as mentally ill, and possessing a stolen weapon. She appeared Wednesday in federal court in Burlington, where Magistrate Judge John Conroy delayed until Monday a hearing on whether Lewis should be imprisoned before trial.

George faced swift criticism in political quarters for her decision last week to drop murder and attempted murder charges in three high-profile cases, including Lewis’. Gov. Phil Scott said he was "at a loss as to the logic" of George's actions, and asked Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan to independently review the case files.

A timeline included in federal charging documents shows that U.S. Attorney Christina Nolan’s office began pursuing firearms charges almost immediately after Scott spoke out.
Nolan insisted that her intervention was not coordinated with Scott’s office, nor was it an implicit critique of George’s decision. But Lewis had been placed in the custody of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, whose clinicians could choose to release her at any time without public notice. Federal investigators believed Lewis’ release was “imminent,” Nolan told reporters, and acted quickly because “we didn’t want her to be released and have something tragic happen.”

Prosecutors said Lewis shot Darryl Montague three times during a beginner course at his gun range in Westford and then fled with one of his guns. Having been adjudicated mentally incapacitated in a 2013 criminal case in New York, Lewis could not legally handle firearms.

Montague told Seven Days he had urged George’s office to include gun charges in its earlier case against Lewis.

“I’ve been asking for three years now, ‘How come no charges were brought for stealing the gun?’” he said. “I never got a good answer, or what I would consider an acceptable answer … The answer I got was, that was not the major issue.”

George told Seven Days on Thursday that similar firearms charges do not exist under state law, but that the state's attorney's office had discussed federal charges with the U.S. Attorney in 2015, before George and Nolan held their respective current posts.

"We were given the impression that those charges were not an option in this case, so that is the information we relied on and what we told Mr. Montague," George said.

Nolan said her office hadn’t wanted to waste resources on a weapons case when Lewis was being held on more serious state charges. Nolan said she’d never discussed the prospect of a federal case with George until Tuesday, when she called the state’s attorney seeking information about where Lewis was being held.

Montague said he was “cautiously optimistic” that the federal case might hold Lewis accountable for the injuries that continue to affect his life. Two of the three bullets that struck him remain lodged in his skull, he said.

Nolan suggested an insanity defense would be less likely to prevail in the weapons case because Lewis is alleged to have broken the law during the entire period she possessed Montague’s gun, not just when she pulled the trigger.

In a Thursday press release, George agreed that Lewis' insanity defense faced a higher burden in federal court. She also said that it would be a mistake to prosecute and re-incarcerate Lewis "simply because we find limitations in our mental health system that are not being addressed."

Lewis will remain in the custody of U.S. Marshals until Monday's hearing.

Her public defender, Michael Desautels, could be heard trying to reassure Lewis after her initial appearance before Conroy.

“I’m hoping that on Monday he lets you go back to your hospital,” Desautels said.

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