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VT Supreme Court Unanimously Grants AG’s Appeal: Orders New Hearing in Gurung Criminal Case

December 31, 2020

Contact: Charity R. Clark, Chief of Staff, 802-828-3171

The Vermont Supreme Court today ruled in favor of the Attorney General in an appeal in the case of State v. Aita Gurung. The Court unanimously agreed with the Attorney General’s position and has ordered a new hearing to consider the Attorney General’s request for a second mental health evaluation of the defendant, Aita Gurung, regarding sanity at the time of the charged offenses. Mr. Gurung is accused of Murder in the First Degree for the killing of his wife, Yogeswari Khadka, and Attempted Murder in the First Degree for the near-fatal attack on his mother-in-law, Tulasa Rimal.

At issue in the appeal was a 2018 sanity evaluation requested by the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office during a prior prosecution of the case. In that evaluation, the psychiatrist failed to use an interpreter, causing him to note, “there were many times that questions needed to be repeated or clarified, and some of [defendant’s] inconsistent responses may have been partly due to a language barrier.” The Court noted in its decision today that the “Defendant’s primary language is Nepali, and he has limited proficiency in English.” As such, the Attorney General’s Office questioned the methodologies used during the 2018 evaluation, but the Office’s request for an evaluation by its own expert witness was denied, prompting this appeal.

In today’s decision, the Vermont Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s denial, holding that the prosecution may request more than one examination regarding sanity pursuant to Vermont Rule of Criminal Procedure 16.1(a)(1)(I). Further, the Vermont Supreme Court also reversed the trial court’s decision to preclude the Attorney General’s Office from calling its own expert witness at the hearing on its motion for a mental health evaluation regarding sanity. This matter is now remanded back to the trial court to conduct another hearing at which point the prosecution will have the opportunity to present evidence as to the reasonableness of an additional mental health evaluation for sanity.

“We are pleased with the Court’s decision,” said Attorney General Donovan. “My office will continue to seek justice for the victims, Yogeswari Khadka and Tulasa Rimal, and we will continue to prosecute Mr. Gurung for these acts of domestic violence.”

A copy of the Court’s decision can be found here.