Attorney General T.J. Donovan is pursuing murder charges against a mentally ill transient who is accused of fatally stabbing a man in downtown Burlington in 2017.
In refiling the first-degree murder charge against Louis Fortier, Donovan has now overridden Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George in all three of the high-profile cases she dropped in 2019 on the grounds that the state could not prove the defendants were criminally responsible for their violent acts.
"Insanity as a legal defense means a defendant cannot appreciate the criminality of their conduct or cannot conform their actions to the law at the time of the incident — in this case, March 29, 2017," Donovan's office said in a statement. "Any evidence of insanity should be brought in front of the Court and presented to either a judge or jury. This is how our system of justice works."
Fortier was arraigned Friday in Chittenden Superior Court, where he appeared remotely from the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin. Fortier has been receiving treatment there under a court-issued hospitalization order since June of 2017.
Fortier, 40, allegedly stabbed Richard Medina, whom police described as a fellow transient, multiple times in the neck at the corner of Church and Cherry streets in broad daylight in March 2017, killing him.
A psychiatrist hired by the state later concluded that Fortier, who suffers from schizophrenia, was not able to control his actions at the time of the crime because he was experiencing intense fear due to his untreated condition. A judge ordered Fortier hospitalized for in-patient mental health treatment while the case was pending, as Fortier was also deemed incompetent to stand trial.
His condition later improved, but George felt the state could not rebut Fortier's insanity defense and dismissed the case. As a result, he remained under the responsibility of the Vermont Department of Mental Health.
George's decision in Fortier's case and the two others instantly became political. Gov. Phil Scott criticized her moves and asked Donovan to review the cases.
Fortier's attorney, David Sleigh, said the state has yet to present any new information that would justify the renewed prosecution nearly two years after the previous case was dropped. Fortier's current hospitalization order lasts until November, Sleigh said, suggesting his release into the community was not imminent.
"I don't understand what's different, other than the attorney general's desire to have a perfect trifecta in undoing Sarah George's dismissal of the three mental health cases," he said.
After Donovan refiled the Gurung case, George similarly said she didn't understand the decision.
“My justification for dismissal is very clear, as documented in my dismissal letter as well as many subsequent interviews,” she wrote about that case. “My dismissal was based on all of the available evidence, our current laws, and my ethical obligations as an Officer of the Court. It does not appear that any of these factors have changed in any way since my dismissal.”
The state will contend that Fortier killed Medina in a dispute over money, the attorney general's office indicated Friday.
Superior Court Judge Kirstin Schoonover set bail at $500,000, an amount that Fortier did not contest. The state has agreed he will continue to reside at the psychiatric hospital pending trial. He entered a plea of not guilty.
Fortier has a history of violent behavior. Since 1996, he has been charged with assault with intent to murder, armed bank robbery, assault on a police officer, aggravated assault with a dangerous weapon and several other alleged crimes, Seven Days previously reported.