AG Donovan Refiles Murder Charge in Burlington Meat Cleaver Case | Off Message

AG Donovan Refiles Murder Charge in Burlington Meat Cleaver Case


  • File: Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press
  • Aita Gurung in court
Updated at 6:06 p.m.

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan has refiled murder and attempted murder charges against a man who allegedly hacked his wife to death with a meat cleaver in Burlington in 2017.

The move comes three months after Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George dropped the same charges against Aita Gurung, who had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. In declining to prosecute the case in early June, George said she had concluded the defendant was legally insane at the time of the crime and would not be found guilty of the charges at trial.

She did the same for two other defendants — one in a murder and the other in an attempted murder case.
But two days after George's decision, on June 6, Gov. Phil Scott asked Donovan to review the cases, saying he was “at a loss as to the logic or strategy” behind the decision to drop the charges.

“These cases are among the most violent crimes committed in Vermont in recent memory, and with their dismissal, there is no longer a possibility of supervision by the Department of Corrections or conditions of release to protect Vermonters,” Scott said at the time in a letter written to Donovan.

On Thursday afternoon the AG’s office announced in an email to members of the media that an arrest warrant had been issued earlier in the day for Gurung, who spent much of his time in custody as a patient at the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin, a secure facility, since shortly after his arrest.

Gurung is scheduled to be arraigned at 1 p.m. Friday. Assistant attorneys general John Waszak and Molly Gray will represent the state in court.

“The Attorney General’s Office will be available for questions immediately following the arraignment,” the alert read. “No statements will be made prior to the arraignment.”

Reached Thursday evening, a spokesperson for the AG’s office refused to comment further.

In response to an emailed request for comment, George wrote, "Until I know what AG Donovan's justification is for re-filing, I do not have any comment on his decision."
In October 2017, Gurung allegedly killed his wife using a meat cleaver in Burlington's Old North End. He's accused of using the same weapon to seriously injure his mother-in-law during the daytime attack.

In dismissing his case, George said experts concluded Gurung was psychotic at the time of the crime. "Voices were telling him to kill his wife," and he did so in a "violent frenzy beyond anything that he exhibited before," she wrote.

George also dropped charges against Louis Fortier, who was accused of murder in 2017 for fatally stabbing fellow homeless man Richard Medina, 43, on the corner of Church and Cherry streets in downtown Burlington.

She also dropped first-degree murder charges against Veronica Lewis, who allegedly shot her firearms instructor, Darryl Montague, multiple times at his gun range in Westford in 2015. He survived.

Donovan’s office did not announce decisions on either of those cases.

In an emailed statement, Brittney Wilson, a Scott spokesperson, said the governor "appreciates that the Attorney General is reviewing each case and he hopes justice will be served for the victims and their families.

"The Governor believes public safety is the top priority of government and when heinous crimes are not properly adjudicated and could put the public at risk, he will speak up," Wilson wrote.

The June dismissals were announced shortly after George successfully prosecuted another accused killer who raised an insanity defense. On May 22, a jury found Steven Bourgoin guilty of five counts of murder for driving the wrong way on Interstate 89 and crashing into a car that carried five teens in October 2016.

Last month, a judge sentenced Bourgoin to 30 years to life in prison.

Correction, September 13, 2019: A previous version of this story misstated where Gurung is currently being held.

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