Teen charged with murder released to family after prosecutor withdraws request to hold him in prison
A 14-year-old facing a second degree murder charge was released to the custody of his family on Wednesday after Addison County state’s attorney Eva Vekos withdrew her request to hold the teen in adult prison.
The defendant, whom Vermont Public is not naming at this time because he is a juvenile, is accused of fatally shooting another 14-year-old on Monday in Bristol. According to a police affidavit filed in court on Tuesday, the alleged shooter was waving a loaded pistol around in a car when the gun went off and shot Madden Gouveia of Shelburne.
“I didn’t mean to shoot you,” the defendant allegedly said, according to another youth who was in the car at the time of the shooting.
Vekos filed three felony charges against the teen: second-degree murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. He faces a life sentence if he’s convicted.
Vekos initially asked Judge David Fenster to hold the defendant without bail because he’d violated previous conditions of release and that the “evidence of guilt was great,” Vekos wrote in a motion filed on Tuesday.
“Clear and convincing evidence will show that the defendant’s release will pose a threat to the community. No condition will ensure the communities' safety,” Vekos wrote in the motion.
Vekos declined to present additional evidence to support her request during a hearing on Wednesday after Fenster ruled on Tuesday that he wouldn’t close the courtroom to the public to hear evidence that Vekos said was confidential.
During Wednesday’s hearing, the defendant’s attorney, Chief Juvenile Defender Marshall Pahl, presented testimony from the Department of Corrections that holding the teen in prison would amount to solitary confinement.
Vermont currently doesn’t have any secured in-state facilities to hold youth accused of crimes. The state’s sole juvenile detention center closed in 2020 amid reports that staff used excessive force and unlawful restraints against kids held in the facility. Since Woodside closed, the state hasn’t replaced it, and in some cases, that’s led to youth being detained in prisons.
Federal law requires that youth placed in prisons are isolated from the adults held there in most situations, DOC facilities manager Joshua Rutherford said during Wednesday’s hearing.
“The obligation to maintain complete sight and sound separation does create a circumstance that would be very similar to solitary confinement,” Rutherford said during the hearing.
“I have every expectation that our department working with [Department for Children and Families] partners would do whatever we can to provide appropriate support,” he added later during his testimony. “But there is ultimately a difference between, say, 17 and 14, and it would be a challenge.”
After Rutherford’s testimony, Vekos asked for a recess. When the hearing resumed, she told Judge Fenster that the state would withdraw its motion to hold the defendant without bail. Instead the teenager was released into the custody of his parents with strict conditions, including a 24-hour curfew that only allowed him out of the house for school, doctor appointments, therapy and court sessions.
Vekos told reporters after the hearing that the DOC testimony changed her mind.
“From my point of view, it didn't seem to be consistent with public safety to put this youth in a situation where he would learn from adult criminals, or become mentally, physically harmed by being housed with them, or also physically and mentally harmed by being in isolation,” Vekos said.
Vekos, who was elected Addison County state’s attorney last year and has a background as a juvenile defender in New York City, said she decided to charge the teenager as an adult because of the seriousness of the alleged conduct.
“The behavior, as far as we're concerned, was so reckless to an extreme where somebody's dead because of it,” she said. “So a starting point in criminal court as an adult is what we thought was the right call.”
It’s rare for youth to be charged as adults in Vermont, though if kids 14 or older are charged with serious felonies like murder, they can only be charged in adult court, said Pahl, the chief juvenile defender and the teen’s attorney.
“This is a case where the allegation is one of essentially tragic carelessness,” Pahl told reporters after the hearing. “Whether or not that's enough to support a second-degree murder charge is going to depend on a lot more facts coming out — that affidavit was fairly thin.”
Pahl said he’s not sure if he’ll try to get the case moved to family court —where it would be confidential. A hearing to check on the status of the case is scheduled for the end of the month.
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