Teen charged and released in fatal Bristol shooting
BRISTOL/MIDDLEBURY — A 14-year-old Burlington youth was released on bail into the custody of his family on Wednesday after pleading innocent in court to charges that he had shot and killed a 14-year-old Shelburne youth in Bristol on Monday evening.
In Addison County Superior Court/Criminal Division in Middlebury, Hussein Mohamed made the pleas to charges of second degree murder, manslaughter and aggravated assault. The teenager is being charged as an adult.
Madden Gouveia was sitting in a car outside a home off North Street in Bristol on Monday evening, when he was shot by a handgun. He died at University of Vermont Medical Center less than two hours later. Police claim that Mohamed, one of three other people in the car, fired the fatal shot, possibly by accident.
Mohamed’s release on conditional bail followed a two-hour-long hearing on Wednesday morning, during which Addison County State’s Attorney Eva Vekos withdrew an earlier motion to hold the teenager without bail.
Vekos explained her decision to withdraw the motion to a group of reporters following the hearing. The state’s attorney referenced testimony provided during the hearing by a Vermont Department of Corrections official, who described the limitations of holding a juvenile without bail in a state that doesn’t operate a juvenile detention center.
“This case has brought to light one of the most serious failures that our state has made when it comes to juveniles, crime and how to deal with it,” Vekos said. “After hearing that testimony it was evident and it should be brought out to light, that the only options really to house a youth with adult inmates, which is never a good idea, or the only other possibility is have him in isolation, which is extremely harmful.”
Mohamed initially entered the innocent pleas in court on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after the shooting. A Vermont State Police officer recounted in an affidavit how Mohamed and Gouveia were sitting in a car with two other people outside a home at 120 North St. in Bristol a little before 7:20 p.m. on Oct. 30. They were passing around a Smith & Wesson M&P 9 handgun, and Mohamed apparently was fooling around with the weapon when it fired, striking Gouveia in the back and causing an injury that proved to be fatal, according to court records.
“I didn’t mean to shoot you,” Mohamed said, according to a statement from the driver of the car who was quoted in the affidavit.
A call was made to 911, and Bristol police officer Frances Smith arrived at 7:24 p.m. State police arrived soon thereafter. According to the affidavit, police were told several different stories about what had transpired. What was consistent is that Mason Bullock, 18, of New Haven drove up to the North Street residence around 6:30 that evening with Gouveia in the passenger seat and Mohamed in the back seat. A juvenile male at the home came out and got in the car, sliding in behind Bullock while Mohamed sat behind Gouveia.
In his affidavit, state police Detective Sgt. Seth Richardson didn’t speculate on why the four young men were in the car, noting he was not providing every detail of the investigation, but just enough to show probable cause and take the case to the next stage.
The youths initially told police that another car had pulled up behind them, someone jumped out and shot Gouveia through the back window before racing away. The officer, however, noted the window was closed and intact. One of the trio told police Mohamed was in the house at the time of the shooting, not in the car.
Under questioning at the New Haven state police barracks, Bullock and the juvenile male who was not identified by name or age told police a different story. In one account, Gouveia showed off the Smith & Wesson gun, implying, apparently, that it was stolen.
State police allege Mohamed was holding the handgun while sitting in the rear, passenger-side seat of the car parked outside the North Street home. State police were told that Gouveia “passed the gun” to the unnamed juvenile sitting in the rear seat, who then “removed the magazine and racked the gun to clear (empty) it” and “put a round/bullet in the magazine and put the magazine back into the gun.”
According to the affidavit, Mohamed then “grabbed the gun and racked it.” The unnamed juvenile managed to get the magazine out of the gun while Mohamed held it, he told police.
State police were told Mohamed was “waving the gun around at which time it went off.” Bullock told police he and Gouveia were speaking with one another when “he heard the gun fire with a loud bang.” According to the affidavit, Bullock heard Gouveia say he was shot and “then heard Mohamed say, ‘I didn’t mean to shoot you.’”
Bullock hauled Gouveia out of the car, he told police, and a female neighbor came and gave the bleeding teen CPR.
The unnamed juvenile went into the house and hid the gun’s magazine under his bed, where the police later found it. Police also later found the gun on the lawn.
First responders found Gouveia critically injured and rendered aid before taking him by ambulance to the UVM Medical Center in Burlington. He was pronounced dead at the hospital shortly after 9 p.m.
Det. Sgt. Richardson’s affidavit didn’t give Mohamed’s take on the events.
Mohamed appeared in court on Tuesday for an arraignment, wearing a red jumpsuit and with his legs shackled. The defendant appeared stone-faced throughout the hearing, at times staring down into his lap.
During Tuesday’s hearing, defense attorney Jonathan Heppell asked that Mohamed be released into the custody of his family. Heppell told the judge the defendant lives with his parents, who needed a Somali language translator in court, and three older brothers, all of whom attended Tuesday’s hearing.
“While home, Hussein’s father, Sharif, does not work, so he would be able to watch Hussein,” Heppell said. “Because he’d be having eyes on him, supervision, there would be no risk of flight. Especially given his age, it would be appropriate to have him home with the family.”
Vekos on Tuesday argued against Mohamed’s release, stating “even though he is a juvenile, he is charged with a felony with the possibility of life imprisonment,” and that the state had moved to hold Mohamed without bail “given the seriousness of the allegations, the seriousness of the potential penalty.” She pointed out that Mohamed would need an “interest of justice” hearing in order to be held in an adult facility, as the state doesn’t have a juvenile detention center.
The state’s attorney also suggested other arguments the state had for holding Mohamed without bail, but asked that the courtroom be closed to the public while those issues were raised, because of evidence related to confidential juvenile matters.
Superior Court Judge David Fenster wondered aloud if he had the authority to do that. Media organizations covering the arraignment protested, noting the defendant was being arraigned as an adult.
Fenster ultimately agreed to keep the courtroom open to the public, after which Vekos called a state Department for Children & Families employee to testify by video.
As Vekos began her questioning, Heppell objected, arguing that whatever information the witness disclosed might reveal confidential information pertaining to Mohamed and other juveniles.
The court proceeding was recessed until Wednesday’s proceeding.
RELEASE TO FAMILY
When court reconvened on Wednesday, Vekos told the judge the state would no longer present evidence for the interest of justice hearing due to the decision to keep the courtroom open. The state also maintained its motion to hold Mohamed without bail.
Fenster asked Vekos and the defense counsel how Mohamed would be held if the court ordered to hold him without bail, but didn’t issue an interest of justice order, which would be needed for the youth to have contact with adult inmates. Both parties were unsure of how that situation would be handled.
Defense attorney Marshall Pahl, who joined the defense counsel on Wednesday, then called to the witness stand Joshua Rutherford, a facilities operation manager with the Vermont Department of Corrections, to testify via video.
Rutherford was asked what would happen if the court ordered a 14-year-old to be held without bail but didn’t find it to be in the interest of justice for the youth to have contact with adult inmates.
Rutherford said the department hasn’t faced such a situation since the state’s “Raise the Age” law took effect in 2020. The law classifies 18-year-olds as juveniles in the criminal justice system and requires the department to provide appropriate housing and services for the juvenile defendants.
“Since this law came into effect, the department has not yet faced a circumstance where the court has simultaneously ordered us to hold an individual and simultaneously found that we couldn’t hold the individual in a correctional facility,” he said. “The department does not operate any juvenile facility and I think that question would start going above my paygrade, so to speak, very quickly. I don’t know what the solution is.”
Following Rutherford’s testimony, Vekos asked for a brief recess in the hearing to allow the state’s counsel to deliberate. When the hearing resumed, Vekos told the judge the state was withdrawing its motion to hold Mohamed without bail, with the understanding the defendant agree to the proposed conditions of release. Included in those conditions was the stipulation that Mohamed be placed under a 24-hour curfew unless he’s attending school, medical/counseling appointments and court dates.
Fenster ordered Mohamed be released on conditional bail, after establishing Mohamed’s parents as the adults responsible for helping ensure he adhere to the proposed conditions. Upon agreeing to those conditions, Mohamed was released into the custody of his family.
Following Wednesday’s hearing, Vekos was asked by reporters about her decision to charge the 14-year-old as an adult.
“A life was lost because of what happened, so we have to address that in the most serious of terms. Being charged as an adult doesn’t mean necessarily it’s going to end up in conviction as an adult, but it’s a starting point,” Vekos explained.
The state’s attorney was also asked about the Sept. 15 killing of a Waltham woman, another instance of a shooting involving a juvenile defendant. Vekos was asked why she hadn’t decided to charge the juvenile as an adult in that case.
Others noted the alleged shooter in that earlier incident who was not charged is white, while the alleged shooter in this case — who was charged and named in public — is a person of color.
Vekos noted she could not provide a lot of information on the Waltham killing case, which is still being investigated, but that the defendant in that case was much younger than Mohamed.
“Age made a big difference,” Vekos said, adding there were other extenuating circumstances that led to her decision. “Those two shootings, fatalities, really aren’t comparable in my mind.”
Mohamed’s trial is set to continue with a status conference on Nov. 27 at 1:30 p.m.
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