Prosecutors have dismissed the four most serious charges against a teenager accused of plotting to shoot up his former Vermont high school and cause mass casualties in a case that has led to new restrictions in the state’s gun laws.
A ruling by the state Supreme Court has made the prosecution against 18-year-old Jack Sawyer “untenable,” Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy said. The state was dismissing charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault with a weapon, Kennedy said in a notice released Monday.
Kennedy said she would proceed with two lesser charges of criminal threatening and carrying a dangerous weapon.
Sawyer has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He had been held without bail following his arrest on Feb. 15, a day after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting massacre that killed 17 people, but the judge in his case set his bail at $100,000 last week.
Prosecutors say Sawyer kept a diary called “The Journal of an Active Shooter” in which he made detailed plans for a shooting at Fair Haven Union High School, in Fair Haven, and said his goal was to kill more people than in any other school shooting. Authorities were alerted by a friend of Sawyer’s, who turned over some Facebook messages in which Sawyer outlined the plot.
Sawyer’s defense team contended that he didn’t take any concrete steps toward committing a crime that under state law would justify the charges. While Sawyer had moved from Maine back to Poultney and had bought a shotgun and ammunition as part of his planning he had not visited his former high school or even visited the town where it’s located.
The Supreme Court ruled that “preparation alone” did not prove an attempt at aggravated murder so he could not be kept in jail without bail.
Kennedy is asking the judge overseeing the case to keep Sawyer’s bail at $100,000. Some conditions of Sawyer’s release are that he be under the supervision of his father and a 24-hour curfew at his home. Sawyer also may not have any contact with any students, staff members or teachers at the school if released.
Republican Gov. Phil Scott, after reading the police affidavit for the Sawyer case, said he changed his stance on some gun restrictions. On April 11, he signed bills to raise the age for buying firearms, ban high-capacity magazines and make it easier for authorities to take guns from people who pose threats to themselves or others. The move established the first significant gun restrictions on gun ownership in Vermont history.
Scott also urged lawmakers to close loopholes related to the law of attempt and to establish a domestic-terrorism statute. The changes would not impact Sawyer as they could not be applied retroactively to his case.
Sawyer’s attorneys did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment on Monday.
By STEPHANIE MORALES
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