The quintuple murder conviction in one of Vermont's highest-profile criminal cases was before the Vermont Supreme Court Thursday, with the defense claiming errors in the trial mean the guilty verdicts should be tossed out.
However, prosecutors insist justice was carried out correctly in the case of Steven Bourgoin of Williston.
"Mr. Bourgoin's conviction should be reversed," defense attorney Josh O'Hara told the justices of the Vermont Supreme Court.
Bourgoin was found guilty in 2019 of five counts of second-degree murder, as well as lesser charges.
The jury believed Bourgoin intentionally drove the wrong way on I-89 in Williston in a fit of rage in 2016. The result of that drive was a fiery crash that killed a car full of innocent teenagers.
Mary Harris, 16, of Moretown; Cyrus Zschau, 16, of Moretown; Liam Hale, 16, of Fayston; Janie Chase Cozzi, 15, of Fayston; and Eli Brookens, 16, of Waterbury, died in the crash. Four of the childhood friends were Harwood Union High School juniors. Chase Cozzi attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire.
Prosecutors argued at trial that Bourgoin had a history of reacting to troubles in his life with intense anger — including prior threats to use his car violently and destructively.
Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George and her team were able to overcome defense claims that Bourgoin was insane at the time. The defense told the jurors Bourgoin was under the delusion he was carrying out a secret government mission which he was told about through hidden code words broadcast through his radio.
Thursday, O'Hara told the Supreme Court in a virtual hearing that testimony at trial from forensic psychiatrist Dr. Paul Cotton was a procedural blindside that undermined their case that Bourgoin was insane, so not legally responsible.
"The trial court in this case greenlit an ambush," O'Hara argued.
However, prosecutors want the 2019 conviction to stand, along with the prison sentence of 30 years to life.
"Mr. Bourgoin wasn't prejudiced by Dr. Cotton's testimony," said Chittenden County Deputy State's Attorney Andrew Gilbertson.
Gilbertson insisted none of the prosecution witnesses was presented in an unfair way.
"It wasn't something new or totally different or totally contradictory to what was already before the jury," Gilbertson said of other testimony the defense took issue with.
"We all miss Mary, we all miss Cyrus, we all miss Janie, we all miss Liam, we all miss Eli," said Liz Harris, the mom of Mary Harris, who should be about to turn 21.
NECN asked Harris in an interview Thursday what the best way would be for Vermonters to honor her daughter and Mary's friends.
"I think the ultimate message is to be kind," Harris suggested. "I think they would want that."
It could take the five justices of the Vermont Supreme Court several months to issue their decision on the appeal.