Wrong-Way Driver Sentenced in Killings of 5 Vt. Teens

Steven Bourgoin is scheduled to be sentenced on five counts of second-degree murder in connection with the October 2016 crash that killed 5 teens on an interstate

A Vermont man was sentenced Monday for crimes a Superior Court judge called "horrific," following a conviction in the state's first-ever quintuple murder trial.

In May, a jury found Steven Bourgoin guilty of intentionally driving the wrong way on Interstate 89 in a fit of rage, then crashing into a car full of teenagers heading home from a concert, killing them all. He was sentenced Monday to a minimum of 30 years in prison.

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 I-89 in Williston in October 2016 as they headed home to the Mad River Valley region.

"His loss — a wound that will never heal," Sue Hale, the mother of Liam Hale, said of her son during Monday's sentencing hearing for Bourgoin, 38.

Chittenden County prosecutors overcame an insanity defense in May to secure five murder convictions in the teens' deaths, with a jury finding Bourgoin got on the highway going the wrong way — speeding, then turning suddenly to crash into the kids' car.

"She was my everything," Bella Harris, Mary Harris’s sister, said at Monday's hearing. "She was my best friend."

"I'm not sure if anything compares to the pain and heartbreak and devastation of losing a child," observed Colleen Ovelman, the mother of Eli Brookens, who also spoke at the hearing.

At trial, Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George and her deputies built a case Bourgoin had a history of lashing out violently when things weren't going his way in his personal life.

Monday, Vermont Superior Court Judge Kevin Griffin ordered Bourgoin to serve a minimum of 30 years in prison for the murders and charges related to a theft of a vehicle and reckless driving. The potential maximum sentence Bourgoin could serve is life in prison.

With credit for time served, and if he is a model inmate, Bourgoin could be eligible for release when he is roughly 66.

Before the sentence was issued, the convicted killer addressed the families of the victims.

"Accept my dearest apologies for your loss at my hand, and my hand alone," Bourgoin said as part of the brief statement he read in court.

One parent, Bob Brookens, said he hopes the deaths of his son Eli and his friends remind everyone to think before they act, and to be kind.

Several of the family members, including Sarah Zschau, addressed the convicted killer directly.

"In spite of your heinous acts and all that you have taken, this amazing community still chooses hope and love," Zschau said in comments Judge Griffin took into account when structuring the sentence.

After the sentence was announced, Liz Harris, the mother of Mary Harris, told reporters she appreciated the hard work of prosecutors, victims' advocates, first responders and law enforcement.

When asked if she was satisfied with the 30-year minimum sentence, with credit for time served, the mom said the length of the sentence wasn't her top concern.

"What was important to me was that Bourgoin recognized and admitted to his guilt for killing our daughter and her friends," Harris said. "I actually do think he was sincere in his apology. I think it's got to be something incredibly hard to live with."

Dan Harris, Mary's dad, told Bourgoin at sentencing that he forgives him, which Griffin later called one of the most powerful moments he witnessed in his career.

When asked by necn after the hearing why he offered that forgiveness, Dan Harris said it's the kind of grace his daughter Mary would have shown.

In Vermont, the most serious of crimes — including this one — receive automatic appeals to the Vermont Supreme Court. More arguments about Bourgoin’s mental capacity are expected in that appeal, along with procedural issues defense attorney Bob Katims raised in objections at trial.

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