As parents stood in the courtroom, holding photos of their children who had been killed, a Vermont Superior Court jury convicted Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, of Williston of five counts of second-degree murder.
The verdict was returned last Wednesday in Chittenden County Superior Court.
Bourgoin, driving the wrong way on Interstate 89 in October 2016, slammed his pickup truck into a car carrying five Mad River Valley teenagers home from a concert at Higher Ground. All five — Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown, Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury, Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston, Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston and Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown — were killed.
Bourgoin showed no emotion and said nothing as each verdict was read.
The jury rejected Bourgoin’s claim that he was insane at the time. Bourgoin faces 20 years to life for each of the five second-degree murder convictions. Sentencing will follow an investigation by the Vermont Probation and Parole Office. Bourgoin will continue to be held without bail.
The eight women and four men on the jury also found Bourgoin guilty of two other charges — stealing a Williston police cruiser while the officer was trying to get the teenagers out of the burning car, then speeding back to the accident and slamming into the wreckage.
Sarah Zschau, the mother of Cyrus, thanked the prosecutors, victim’s advocates and “our whole Vermont community” that provided support.
“We’d like it to be about the kids now and no more about Steven Bourgoin. They’re beautiful kids,” Sarah Zschau said.
Another parent, Sue Hale, asked people “to refocus the energy towards the incredible young people whose lives were needlessly and tragically taken from them and us.”
The verdict makes a difference, Sarah Zschau said: “At least he’s not going to hurt anyone else’s kids now, and that makes a difference to me.”
“It helps for sure,” her husband, Chris Zschau, eyes red, added quietly. “Now we’re going to go off and see our other son Charlie play ball.”
The jury, which heard 11 days of testimony, deliberated eight hours on Tuesday and four hours on Wednesday before returning the verdicts.
Judge Kevin Griffin gave defense lawyers Robert Katims and Sara Pulls 30 days to file any posttrial motions.
Griffin told State’s Attorney Sarah George and her deputy Susan Hardin they would have 14 days to respond to any defense motions.
For George and Hardin, it was the ending they were seeking in a homicide case with more victims than any other in Vermont history.
“I am incredibly grateful for such a diligent and thoughtful jury,” George said. “Really don’t know that we could have asked for a better, more focused jury than we received. They paid attention the entire time. They really obviously took their time deliberating. I appreciate that they took the time they needed to come to the verdict that they came to.”
George said the teenagers’ lives ended far too soon, and she praised their families, the “bravery and their courage to come here every day and listen to this evidence, and to have gone through two and a half years waiting for this day. I could not ask for a better outcome.”
George said she believes the jury focused on the people who had seen Bourgoin just before and after the crash, rather than the psychiatrists who evaluated him months afterward.
Katims, the chief defense lawyer, said “Steven obviously is disappointed in the verdict. We’re disappointed in the verdict. We respect the verdict, but we are disappointed. We think we presented overwhelming medical evidence with regard to the sanity issue. And we are disappointed that the jury found otherwise.”
Katims said the defense plans to appeal on several legal grounds.
The judge thanked people in the packed courtroom for the dignity they had shown toward the legal process.
“It is clear to the court this jury has worked very, very hard and has been very diligent in undertaking an extraordinarily difficult case,” he said.
Mary Harris essay
Mary Harris’ mother, Elizabeth, read an essay her daughter wrote shortly before the crash.
Kindness, Mary wrote, is one of the “fundamental characteristics of the best people in the world.”
“I believe it is nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice, which every person has the ability to do. You have the ability to be kind. You have the ability to help others be happy, to be proud and confident.
“You have the ability to change someone’s day. You have the ability to change someone’s life through something as simple as a kind smile, a good laugh, five extra seconds to hold a door open or give a compliment.”
“Without kindness, what is the point?” the essay concluded.
“That was Mary,” her mother said. “That’s how she lived and that’s how we want her to be remembered.”