The Vermont Supreme Court on Friday upheld five murder convictions against Steven Bourgoin, who killed five teenagers during a wrong-way crash in 2016.
The justices' ruling rejected Bourgoin's appeal following a trial held in May 2019, when a jury found him guilty of five counts of second-degree murder, one count of gross negligence and operating a vehicle without its owners' consent. The court sentenced Bourgoin to 30 years to life in prison.
Bourgoin had claimed he was insane at the time of the crash. In his appeal, Bourgoin contended that the prosecution, led by Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George, had failed to prove that he intended to kill the teens. He also took issue with the court's handling of certain testimony and the instructions given to the jury.
Justices were unpersuaded by any of Bourgoin's arguments. Under Vermont law, second-degree murder requires that the perpetrator either intended to kill or do great bodily harm, or showed a wanton disregard about the likely consequences of one's behavior. The high court concluded that the evidence suggested Bourgoin knew he was driving the wrong direction on Interstate 89, and that it was not unreasonable for a jury to decide that he understood the risks involved.
"The fact that he may have been doing so because he believed he was on a government mission or that he was responding to some imagined threat to himself or others, even if believed by the jury, did not preclude the jury from
concluding beyond a reasonable doubt that he wantonly disregarded his subjective awareness of the deadly risk his actions posed to other motorists on the highway," the justices wrote.
Bourgoin also argued that the trial court judge should have granted a mistrial following the delivery of testimony that Bourgoin's attorneys said had not been disclosed to them ahead of time. The judge, Kevin Griffin, allowed the trial to proceed but instructed jurors to disregard the testimony in question. The Supreme Court said that decision was appropriate.
George, in an email, praised the justices' "incredibly thorough and thoughtful" decision, and said she was glad it was rendered quickly.
"I’m hopeful it allows for even the slightest bit of closure for the families, to the extent that’s ever possible," she wrote.
In their opinion, the justices misstated Bourgoin's previously issued prison sentence. He was sentenced to a minimum of 26 years in prison on the murder convictions, plus another four years for driving a police cruiser away from the scene of the crash. The sentences were issued consecutively, for a combined minimum of 30 years behind bars.