A Massachusetts man pled not guilty Monday to accusations he killed a couple in southern Vermont and burned down their home.
"Sad. Very sad," said Diane Lovely, the sister of victim Steve Lovely, describing the mood in their family this Christmas.
In a Brattleboro, Vermont, courtroom, Lovely’s family saw the suspect Justin Orwat, 47, of Springfield, Massachusetts.
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Orwat’s defense attorney, Dan Sedon, entered a not guilty plea on his client’s behalf on charges of aggravated murder and arson.
Prosecutors say in late October, Orwat shot Lovely and Lovely's girlfriend, Amanda Sanderson, inside their home in the southern Vermont community of Townshend. Orwat then allegedly burned the house down with the victims' bodies inside.
A police investigation linked Orwat to the victims because earlier in October, they were together when stopped by police in Bellows Falls. Officers discovered a large amount of cash, trace amounts of marijuana, white powder, and small plastic bags, according to a police affidavit.
Steve Brown, a Windham County prosecutor, said he's not aware of any criminal charges having been filed in that case.
The suspect was arrested in Massachusetts on outstanding warrants there and was recently returned to Vermont to face the new charges.
According to police, Orwat’s SUV had a gasoline can in it. Detectives made note of that in paperwork because a police dog detected the scent of an accelerant at the fire scene.
"The state police, really, they did a great job processing that scene, to try to recover every bit of evidence that we could recover," said Deputy Windham County State’s Attorney Steve Brown.
According to the police affidavit, the suspect's wife, Tami Orwat, told Vermont State Police detectives the four would use drugs together, until the men had a falling out over suspicions Orwat was stealing.
Tami Orwat said in an interview with detectives that on the night of the killing, her husband was paranoid from having taken bath salts and other drugs.
In an interview with necn after the brief arraignment, some of the victims’ loved ones painted a distinctly positive picture of Lovely and Sanderson. They called them beautiful, fun, caring, big-hearted people, who only made the mistake of letting Justin Orwat stay with them.
"We could live 150 years and not be able to wrap our heads around what these folks have done," Billie-Jo Fournier, Steve Lovely’s sister, said of the Orwats. "I hope (Orwat) never sees the light of day. I hate to be that way at Christmastime, but I’ll never wrap my head around what he did to these innocent people."
Brown noted that at this time, Tami Orwat is not facing any criminal charges. In the police interview, she said she was unaware of the fire until much later, and claimed her husband never confessed to her about shooting the couple.
Judge Michael Kainen ordered Justin Orwat jailed without bail. If he’s found guilty of aggravated murder, he'll serve a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.