BURLINGTON — Trial testimony will not begin until May 4 for a Williston man charged after the deaths of five Central Vermont teenagers in a fiery wrong-way crash on Interstate 89.
The jury selection portion of the trial for Steven D. Bourgoin, 38, will begin Monday in Vermont Superior Court in Burlington and could take up to a week. The opening statements and witness testimony would not be held until the following Monday even if it does not take the full week.
Judge Kevin Griffin said Thursday the one week for jury selection is designed to ensure a fair and impartial panel is selected for the high-profile trial. The clerk’s office summoned 500 Chittenden County residents for potential jury duty and later sent another 200 notices.
Court Clerk Christine Brock said Thursday those numbers have been whittled, partly because of bad addresses and with the use of follow-up questionnaires. Some people have been excused due to the few reasons allowed in Vermont for missing jury service, including medical issues.
The plan is for 50 to 70 potential jurors to be invited to court on Monday for questioning by Griffin and the lawyers, with another 50 to 70 invited for Tuesday. The process will continue until a 12-member jury and sufficient alternates are selected.
Griffin agreed Thursday to allow for some individual, segregated questioning for a few issues, including any knowledge or biases potential jurors have gleaned from the news media since the Oct. 8, 2016 crash in Williston. Those sessions also will be done in public.
The state believes it can get its case introduced in about five days, while the defense is looking to use about three days for its presentation. The state will have some rebuttal witnesses, prosecutors said.
Bourgoin, who grew up in Rutland, has pleaded not guilty to five counts of second-degree murder. Also, he has denied single charges of reckless driving and driving a marked Williston police cruiser without consent.
The state has said Bourgoin was speeding, driving the wrong way on I-89 in Williston and had high levels of THC in his blood when he crashed his vehicle into a Volkswagen, killing the five Mad River Valley teens at about 11:55 p.m. Oct. 8, 2016.
If convicted, Bourgoin would face 20 years to life on each homicide case.
State Police said Bourgoin was driving an estimated 79 miles per hour. The teens became trapped in the 2004 Volkswagen Jetta, which burst into flames, police said.
Six hours after the crash, Bourgoin still had 10 nanograms of active THC level in his blood, according to the official drug report. A state judge ordered a blood draw of Bourgoin because of the level of impairment he displayed at the scene, police said.
Bourgoin’s defense team maintains he was insane at the time of the crash. Both the psychiatrist in Massachusetts retained by the defense and the psychiatrist in Massachusetts hired by the prosecution agree he was insane at the time, court records show.
The prosecution now hopes to use a third doctor to try to overcome those findings.
The fiery crash killed Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown; and Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown.
State’s Attorney Sarah George and defense lawyer Robert Katims asked the judge to reconsider his thought about moving the trial to a larger courtroom, which does not have any windows.
Both George and Katims said they preferred the trial in the slightly smaller courtroom with windows.
The veteran judge said he has to remain sensitive to the general public having enough space to witness the trial no matter which courtroom is used.
“It’s a public trial,” Griffin said.
He said the courthouse rules are no reserved seats and it is first come, first served. That could present a problem for family members of the five victims, for a large media presence, and anybody who might want to attend, he said.
By Thursday afternoon, a decision had been made to use the courtroom with windows and about 40 seats in the gallery, Brock said.
Griffin is working with the court staff to have any overflow directed to an adjoining courtroom, where an audio and video feed will be available.
The two sides continued to spar over some final motions, including the use of a Power Point presentation and an animation created showing how the state believes the crash happened.
Katims said he was not worried about the Power Point as much as the animation. He questioned whether the animation had the specifics of the crash represented.