MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A teenager charged with planning a shooting at his former high school never carried out the crime and should be granted bail, his lawyer argued before a state Supreme Court panel on Tuesday.
In court filings and during oral arguments, attorneys for Jack Sawyer argued that while Sawyer made preparations for a shooting at the Fair Haven Union High School he didn’t take any concrete steps that under Vermont law would justify charges including attempted aggravated murder, which allows a judge to reject bail.
“The evidence in this case shows that the defendant had no plans to commit the target offense for at least a month at the time he was arrested,” said attorney Marshall Pahl, who’s representing Sawyer in his appeal to the Supreme Court.
While Sawyer, 18, had moved from Maine back to Poultney, Vermont, and 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. Pahl said the state Supreme Court has consistently ruled that preparation is not an attempt unless it is more closely tied to the attempt.
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Court documents said Sawyer had planned to carry out the attack March 14.
Rutland County State’s Attorney Rosemary Kennedy said Sawyer, who kept a diary called “Journal of an Active Shooter,” had made detailed plans for a shooting in which his goal was to kill more people than in any other school shooting. Kennedy said the hearing, before a three-justice court panel, was not the penalty phase of a trial but was part of the process that will allow the case to go to a trial to determine guilt or innocence.
“It we are told we have to wait until this young man shows up on campus with his arsenal, we are not talking about an attempt anymore,” she said. “People will die.”
Sawyer has pleaded not guilty and is being held without bail on a variety of charges. If convicted of attempted aggravated murder he would automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Sawyer’s attorneys are appealing a lower-court decision that he is not entitled to bail. They want the case sent back to the lower court.
Sawyer was arrested Feb. 15, the day after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17. A friend had alerted police to some social media posts that Sawyer had made outlining his plans.
Sawyer’s arrest prompted Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who had previously opposed any plans to change the state’s gun laws, to call for gun restrictions, the first of which passed the Legislature last week.
The court didn’t indicate when it would rule on the bail arguments.