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Key Defense Witness Takes Stand in Vermont Quintuple Murder Trial

The mental state of defendant Steven Bourgoin and his ability to understand his actions are at the center of the trial

The jury in a rare quintuple murder trial in Vermont’s Chittenden County heard testimony Monday that is expected to be critical in the deliberation room.

Steven Bourgoin, of Williston, is facing five charges of second-degree murder, after he was accused of killing a car full of teenagers in October 2016 in a wrong-way crash.

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 were killed on Interstate 89 in Williston as they headed home from a concert. Childhood friends, Brookens, Hale, Harris, and Zschau attended Harwood Union High School in Duxbury, and Cozzi was a student at Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire.

Bourgoin’s attorneys do not dispute their client was behind the wheel, but they insist he was insane at the time—and not guilty because of that.

“The driver of his psychosis is his mood,” Dr. David Rosmarin, a forensic psychiatrist, told the jury Monday.

Rosmarin, testifying for the defense, said Bourgoin was bipolar and grossly psychotic— unable to grasp what could come of his actions at the time of the wrong-way drive and crash that claimed the lives of the five teenagers.

“He believes things that are physically impossible are happening to him,” Rosmarin testified, describing Bourgoin’s mental state leading up the crash.

Bourgoin’s attorneys insist their client can’t be held legally responsible for the crime because of his mental condition, which they say had worsened to the point of thinking his car radio contained hidden messages just for him, and that the fatal crash was a fake test by the government preparing him for a top-secret mission.

But the state’s attorney’s office doesn’t believe Bourgoin was having a psychotic break. The prosecutors have said Bourgoin has a history of reacting with violence to life stresses—including prior threats to hurt others with his car.

Prosecutors are trying to convince the jury that the wrong way drive that killed the teens was part of a pattern; the latest rage sparked after Bourgoin’s failed relationship, a loss of child custody, and bad finances.

The state’s attorney and her deputy will have a chance to cross-examine Rosmarin, considered a key defense witness.

There are still additional witnesses scheduled to answer questions about Bourgoin’s mental capacity as the trial continues this week.

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