By Alan J. Keays and Colin Meyn, VTDigger.org
RUTLAND — A Rutland County prosecutor is trying to be bring additional charges against a Poultney man accused of what police say was a foiled plot to cause “mass casualties” at his former high school in Fair Haven.
Unlike the charges that were initially brought against Jack Sawyer in mid-February that could have sent him to jail for the rest of his life, the two new charges are misdemeanors that together carry only a possible maximum penalty of three years in jail.
The move by the prosecutors to file the two additional misdemeanor counts comes after a ruling last week by the Vermont Supreme Court that dealt a severe blow to the four felony charges currently pending against Sawyer, prompting his attorneys to seek to have them dismissed.
Those charges all involved “attempt” offenses, including attempted aggravated murder and attempted first-degree murder.
A hearing in the case is set for 3 p.m. Tuesday, April 17, in Rutland Superior criminal court to determine what bail or release conditions, if any of either, should be imposed on Sawyer.
The Supreme Court ruled last week that Sawyer could not longer be held without bail, and that mere planning alone does not rise to the level of an attempt under Vermont case law.
Sawyer remained in detention Monday at the Rutland jail without bail, pending Tuesday’s hearing.
Should the judge agree to dismiss, or not find probable cause for the felony charges, bail and conditions of release could still be imposed against Sawyer if the judge finds probable cause for the two misdemeanors.
However, Defender General Matthew Valerio, whose office is defending Sawyer, said it’s rare for cash bail to be imposed on misdemeanor charges alone, especially when a defendant has no criminal record, as is the case with Sawyer.
The move by the prosecutor to file the additional misdemeanor charges follows a statement issued by Gov. Phil Scott early Friday evening, April 13, saying that his administration is working with county, state and federal prosecutors to pursue “any and all legal avenues” to keep Sawyer in custody.
The governor said he was “appalled” by Sawyer’s potential release, adding, “Based on the evidence in the public record, it is clear the individual intended and still intends to carry out a horrific crime.”
Sawyer was arrested in mid-February after authorities said a 17-year-old girl from New York reported to police that she had conversations with Sawyer through Facebook messenger that indicated to her that he was planning a shooting at his former high school.