Six witnesses — most of them law enforcement — testified Tuesday in Rutland Criminal Court, helping prosecutors lay the groundwork in the case against an 18-year-old Poultney man accused in a thwarted school shooting plot at Fair Haven Union High School.
Jack Sawyer remained handcuffed during a more than 2-and-a-half hour "weight-of-evidence" hearing.
Besides listening to others testify, Sawyer sat quietly as prosecutors played video clips of his own interrogation by members of the Vermont State Police. The clips shine a light on Sawyer's fascination with the Columbine High School shooting and the two teens, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who committed it in 1999.
Detective Sgt. Henry Alberico of the Vermont State Police testified that during the interrogations with Sawyer, the defendant "explained that once he fulfilled his massacre that he would end it, conclude it by taking his own life in the library as well."
The clips and testimony went so long that Judge Thomas Zonay had to schedule a continuance for Friday.
Sawyer has pleaded not guilty to charges including aggravated attempted murder, attempted first-degree murder and attempted aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.
Tuesday’s hearing was supposed to allow the judge to determine, based on the evidence, whether Sawyer could be released on bail — something prosecutors oppose.
Acting Fair Haven Union High School Principal Jason Rasco testified that in March 2016, while he was assistant principal, he was concerned about Sawyer, who was then a student at the school.
“There were a number of what I’d say were red flags,” testified Rasco.
Rasco said Sawyer was distant and was doing a school report on the 1999 Columbine, Colorado school shooting by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.
“At the same time,” continued Rasco, “there were some significant posts on his Facebook page that was under the name 'Klebold.'”
Rasco says school officials began a threat assessment, but Sawyer left the school soon after and hadn’t returned since, so that effort was stopped.
Rasco testified that he’d heard via email earlier this month that some teachers at the high school, as well as some parents, were concerned that Sawyer was back in the area and had purchased a gun.
“So on Feb. 15, 2018, how many students called out sick with sort of this knowledge that the defendant was back and possibly a threat to the school again?” asked Rutland County State's Attorney Rose Kennedy.
“I believe it was just over a quarter of our population in the school,” answered Rasco.
“And do you recall how many called out and specifically mentioned Mr. Sawyer?” Kennedy asked.
“Thirty-eight,” Rasco stated.
Cpl. Scott Alkinburgh, Fair Haven Union High’s school resource officer, testified about a journal that Sawyer allegedly wrote describing a Columbine-style shooting the defendant was allegedly planning, in which Alkinburgh is listed as the first of many targets.
“Do you believe that the defendant is capable of pulling or carrying out these threats and this mass shooting?" asked Kennedy.
“Yes,” answered Alkinburgh.
“Are you personally scared?” Kennedy went on.
“Yes,” Alkinburgh answered.
Kelly Green, Sawyer’s defense attorney, repeatedly pointed out during the hearing that her client and his parents have been honest and forthcoming.
She seemed irritated that prosecutors had not provided her with all of the evidence they were presenting to the judge, but agreed to go forward with the proceedings.
No one from Kennedy’s team would comment after the hearing. Green said she feels the charges against her client are excessive, but wouldn’t comment further.
Sawyer, meanwhile, remains at Marble Valley Regional Correctional Facility in Rutland, and the weight-of-evidence hearing will continue Friday morning.