Sunday, May 28, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Bail Hearing for Vermont Teen Charged With Shooting Plot

An 18-year-old who has been jailed since he was charged with plotting a mass shooting at his former high school in February will face a bail hearing Tuesday.

RUTLAND, Vt. (CN) - An 18-year-old who has been jailed since he was charged with plotting a mass shooting at his former high school in February will face a bail hearing Tuesday.

Jack Sawyer, of Poultney, was arrested on Feb. 15, the day after carnage erupted at another high school about 1,500 miles south of Vermont in Parkland, Florida.

The 3 p.m. bail hearing for Sawyer in Rutland comes after the Vermont Supreme Court ruled on April 11 that Sawyer could not be held without bail.

Sawyer faces two counts of aggravated attempted murder, and one count each of first-degree attempted murder and aggravated assault with a weapon, but the state Supreme Court determined that prosecutors lack evidence to show that Sawyer’s actions reflect an attempt to commit the charged crimes.

On Feb. 14, the day of the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, it was Vermont State Police that fielded a call about a possible threat by Sawyer against Fair Haven High School, where he had been enrolled.

That afternoon, according to last week’s ruling on his bail hearing, Sawyer revealed to officers that he had recently purchased a shotgun and was using it for target practice.

The police did not have enough probable cause at that time, but they returned to question Sawyer the next day when the sheriff’s office in Dutchess County, New York, alerted them that Sawyer had been exchanging apparently threatening messages on Facebook with a Dutchess County student.

In addition to discussing a plot to shoot up his old high school, Sawyer wrote approvingly about the shooting in Florida.

A search of Sawyer’s car meanwhile turned up books about various school shootings as well as a 31-page diary that Sawyer had labeled “Journal of an Active Shooter,” which included detailed plans on executing the largest school shooting in history.

In one passage regarding a school resource officer, Sawyer apparently wrote: “I'm intending to just blow his fucking head off before he can even draw his gun or think about what's happening, but I can only hope with that one. If he kills me first, all of this will be pointless since I won't make the impact and chaos I plan to create. I don't think it'll be too big of an issue figuring out though. Probably just shooting his head point blank is the best way to go."

But the Vermont Supreme Court concluded that the evidence against Sawyer shows only “preparatory act[s], and not an act undertaken in the attempt to commit a crime.”

On the same day this ruling came down, Vermont’s Republican governor signed three unprecedented bills to tighten the state’s gun laws.

Prosecutors invoked the new laws immediately in Rutland family court last week to request an extreme-risk protection order against Sawyer, should he be given bail.

A superior court judge signed the order on April 12, barring Sawyer from possessing a gun because of the evidence that he poses an extreme risk of physical harm to himself and others.

There will be a full hearing on the matter April 25, but Sawyer reportedly did not contest the order.

In advance of Tuesday’s bail hearing before Judge Thomas Zonay, State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy filed amended information against Sawyer, and Sawyer’s public defender requested to review probable cause and dismiss the case.

In seeking bail for Sawyer, public defender Kelly Green has leaning on precedent from the 1906 case State v. Hurley, in which an inmate was caught with saw blades that were presumably smuggled into his cell for an escape attempt. The court decided that preparatory actions did not constitute an attempt of crime.

Prosecutor Rose Kennedy noted disappointment with the Supreme Court’s decision. “The state believes that Mr. Sawyer did commit an ‘overt act’ in satisfaction of the attempt statute,” Kennedy said, as reported by the Rutland Herald.

Fair Haven Police Chief William Humphries meanwhile warned that he would bolster security around the school if Sawyer is freed. “I think the community’s on eggshells and they got some sense of relief when Judge Zonay ruled in our favor,” Humphries told the Rutland Herald. “I think we’ve got to the point where everybody’s kind of settled a little bit. It’s going to go right back to where we were in February, unfortunately.”

Read the Top 8

Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.