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Vermont Attorney General Refiles Dismissed Murder Charge After Request From Governor

A photo of a Burlington Police car outside a home, with caution tape across the driveway.
Taylor Dobbs
Aita Gurung allegedly killed his wife at their home on Hyde Street, in Burlington, on Oct. 12, 2017. Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George had dropped the charges against Gurung, but Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan refiled charges this week.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan has refiled a murder charge against a Burlington man accused of killing his wife with a meat cleaver in 2017. Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George dismissed charges against Aita Gurung earlier this year, after the suspect's lawyers mounted an insanity defense.

Shortly after the dismissal in June, Gov. Phil Scott asked the attorney general to review George's decision.

"I'm very grateful the attorney general took another look," Scott said at a press conference Thursday. "We obviously have some opportunities to do things differently."

More from VPR — Gov. Scott Voices Concern After 3 Major Chittenden County Cases Dismissed[June 6]

George said she dropped the case against Gurung because she couldn't prove that he wasn't insane when he allegedly committed the crime. She has defended her decision to dismiss the charges.

In a statement issued Friday, George said that her reason for dismissing the case was clear.

"My dismissal was based on all of the available evidence, our current laws, and my ethical obligations as an Officer of the Court," George said in written remarks. "It does not appear that any of these factors have changed in any way since my dismissal."

Donovan refiled murder and attempted murder charges against Gurung on Wednesday.

The attorney general said he chose to refile the charges because he believes the state should have gone to trial, and Donovan said Friday that the court process should play out.

"I think we need a true and accurate record of what occurred, and people have a right to know," Donovan said. "And I think when you look down the line, whether it's five years or 10 years, I don't think a dismissal tells you what happened."

Sandra Lee, the public defender representing Gurung, said the court already made a decision in the case.

"To have to go through this process, where quite honestly it feels very politicized in the manner in which this case even came back, is very disturbing," Lee said.

The governor said Thursday that the case has exposed a "loophole" in the criminal justice system and that he wants to make it more difficult for lawyers to mount an insanity defense on behalf of their clients.

"Using an insanity defense is becoming more prevalent it appears," Scott said, "and we need to figure out, how do we close that?"

Scott said he plans to ask legislators to take up the issue next year.

Update 9/13/2019 7:21 p.m. This post was updated with comment from George

Update 9/13/2019 7:07 p.m. This post was updated with comment from Donovan and Lee.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.
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