By Alexandre Silberman
The trial for a Williston man accused of killing five teenagers in a 2016 wrong-way crash on Interstate 89 will stay in Chittenden County.
Burlington Judge Kevin W. Griffin wrote in a decision that Steven Bourgoin, 37, has not been able to show “so great a prejudice” against him from media coverage that he would be unable to receive a fair trial in the county.
Bourgoin’s attorney, Robert Katims, requested in April that the trial should not be held in Chittenden County Superior Court, arguing his client would not receive a fair trial from jurors who live in the same county where the crash occurred.
“Not only has publicity in this case been pervasive and severely negative with respect to Mr. Bourgoin, but any potential juror from Chittenden County is likely to have driven through the scene of the crime (a stretch of Interstate 89 in Williston) on numerous occasions,” wrote Katims. “The community in Chittenden was powerfully impacted by the events at issue in this case, and cannot be expected to judge Mr. Bourgoin fairly.”
The state argued that the pretrial coverage “is not so pervasive, so negative, so inflammatory, or so prejudicial” to Bourgoin that he would not receive a fair trial in the county.
The court found that media coverage of the case has been extensive statewide, and given Chittenden County’s ability to offer the largest pool of jurors, determined that that “a change in venue is unwarranted.”
Bourgoin’s attorney argued that media coverage has been prejudicial because it displays his client in an “unsympathetic light,” appeals to emotions and reveals prejudicial details without context.
Following an extensive review of coverage, the court rejected those claims, also noting that reports and articles are available online throughout the state.
“For the most part, though, the court finds that the reporting was fair, largely duplicative, and not inflammatory […] Some reports included sympathetic information from defendant’s friends regarding defendant’s background and recent struggles,” the decision states.
Griffin wrote that the ruling does not prevent the court from revisiting the issue at trial.
The five victims of the crash were teenagers on their way home from a concert at Higher Ground in South Burlington. Bourgoin, heading northbound on I-89 South, crashed his Toyota Tacoma into them going an estimated 79 mph, police said. The car the students were in burst into flames on the median.
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