Sawyer case back in court, minus the drama and the defendant

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Jack Sawyer, of Poultney, talks with his defense attorneys Marshall Pahl, center, and Kelly Green, right, in Rutland criminal court during his bail review hearing. (Robert Layman / Staff Photo)

RUTLAND — The Jack Sawyer case was back in court on Wednesday for the first time since the 18-year-old was released on bail in late April, and this time the proceedings were notable for their routineness, with discussion focused on working out a schedule for the case moving forward.

The former Fair Haven Union High School student, who was arrested in February for what was described as a foiled plot to shoot up his old high school, did not attend the status conference in his case held in Rutland County Superior criminal court, having been excused earlier in the week by Judge Thomas Zonay.

The Sawyer case — the spectre of an armed student attacking a Vermont high school, following so soon after a mass shooting at a Florida high school left 17 students and teachers dead — inspired historic changes to the state’s gun laws, but ultimately became unsustainable, with the most serious offenses against him, including three counts of attempted murder, dropped by prosecutors in April.

On Wednesday the case was one of many before the judge, who was hearing the latest updates in each case, and the respective plans for advancing each one.

As attorneys and clients began to fill the courtroom, the Sawyer matter, the first on the list, kicked off a long day of proceedings.

“Where do we stand with the matter of Mr. Sawyer?” Zonay asked, to start things off.

“We probably need to sit down and hash out a discovery and pretrial schedule for the court,” responded Kelly Green, a public defender representing Sawyer. Green took part in the hearing via telephone.

“Do you want to put one together in the next couple of weeks and file it?” the judge asked.

“That’s exactly right,” Green replied.

“That’s fine, judge,” added Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy, who is prosecuting the case.

The judge gave the lawyers until June 29 to submit the schedule, which would include deadlines for turning over evidence and the filing of motions.

“Anything further we can address?” Zonay asked.

“Not from us,” Green said.

Sawyer has been free on bail of $10,000 since shortly after the last court hearing in the case, in late April. He is reported to be receiving inpatient psychiatric care at the Brattleboro Retreat.

The charges still pending against him are criminal threatening and carrying a dangerous weapon with the avowed purpose to commit serious injury or death.

The maximum penalty for a conviction on the two charges together is three years in prison. Sawyer has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

The more serious offenses against Sawyer, including the attempted murder charges, were dropped by the prosecutor after a Vermont Supreme Court decision that, she said, made continuing the case as originally charged “untenable.”

The high court had ruled that making preparations to commit a crime did not rise to the level of an attempt under Vermont case law.

The ruling prompted an attempt by lawmakers to rewrite the current attempt law, but the legislation stalled over disagreements about language and how far-reaching the changes should be.

The Legislature did pass, and Gov. Phil Scott signed, a domestic terrorism statute that criminalizes the conduct of someone found to have taken substantial steps toward carrying out an attack.

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