FORT EDWARD — The Ticonderoga teen who killed his friend with a machete last summer pleaded guilty Thursday to a second-degree murder charge, lawyers in the case saying the killing happened after a night of partying but that what motivated the homicide will likely never be known.
Adrian J. Sawyer, 16, admitted to intentionally killing 15-year-old Maverick Bowman in a home on county Route 2 in Putnam last July 26, agreeing to serve 20-years-to-life in state prison for the death of teen his lawyer described as his “best friend.”
The plea led to more information coming to light Thursday about the hours before one turned on the other, cutting his neck severely with a large knife after a night of partying in an abandoned home owned by Bowman’s family.
Sawyer, a slight young man who wore a green-and-white jail jumpsuit to court, spoke quietly as he responded to Washington County Judge Kelly McKeighan’s questions about his rights, and his understanding of the plea offer to resolve the case.
“What you’re going to plead to, what the sentence is going to be, you’re in agreement with?” McKeighan asked him.
“Yes,” Sawyer replied quietly.
The judge did not ask Sawyer to go into detail as to how Bowman’s death occurred. But asked if he caused the death of a person the judge identified by his initials as “M.B,” Sawyer replied “yes” again, then replied “guilty” to the charge of second-degree murder.
An arson charge that was filed in connection with a fire Sawyer allegedly set in the home after he killed Bowman will be dropped as part of the plea deal.
Motive not known
The plea brings resolution to a case that had horrified the Ticonderoga area, as the two teens were classmates at Ticonderoga High School and families well known in the region.
Exactly what prompted Sawyer to kill his friend was still unknown, however.
Both Sawyer’s lawyer, Marc Zuckerman, and Washington County District Attorney Tony Jordan said it appeared that Sawyer was unable to say why he killed his friend.
The two teens were part of a group that had been hanging out, drinking beer and smoking marijuana, in the garage at the home just west of Lake Champlain. Neighbors said the remote home, which at one point was home to a car repair business run by the Bowman family, had become a frequent gathering spot for teens.
At one point around 1:30 a.m. on July 26, Sawyer had a “Facetime” conversation via cellphone with an ex-girlfriend, that left him upset, as he advocated the two getting back together.
She rebuffed him, despite Bowman advocating for his friend, Jordan said.
Jordan said Sawyer may have been upset over strife with the the girl and “may have used that as part of it,” but Jordan did not view trouble between the two teens over the girl as a motive. Friends said there may have been an argument over the girl.
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About two hours later, when others who had been present had left and just Bowman and Sawyer remained in the home, Bowman was killed when he was passed out in a chair, his neck cut severely with a large blade. A short time later he contacted a relative via social media and made comments that made them believe he had harmed Bowman, and a Ticonderoga Police officer who responded found the teen dead. Sawyer was arrested hours later in Ticonderoga.
The murder weapon was initially believed to be a machete that was recovered in the home, but Jordan said an examination of Bowman’s wounds by forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Sikirica led to the determination that the wound appeared to be caused by a serrated blade, and the machete was not serrated.
‘Extreme emotional disturbance’
Sawyer’s defense lawyers had looked into a possible defense that an “extreme emotional disturbance” led to the killing, which could have resulted in a jury finding Sawyer committed first-degree manslaughter instead of murder. Zuckerman said that Sawyer had run away from home for several days in the weeks before the homicide, gone to Vermont, and something happened there that resulted in him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
“There were a number of incidents that were very troubling to Adrian,” he said. “There were some traumatic events in the weeks before. Whatever did happen affected him.”
He would not elaborate. He said Sawyer’s family reported the matter to police, but no criminal charges were filed.
After receiving a forensic psychologist’s report in recent weeks for the potential EED defense, Zuckerman said that defense looked problematic, so Sawyer decided to avoid the potential of a lengthier sentence after a conviction at trial.
Witnesses said that there was a “large amount” of alcohol and marijuana used at the gathering before Bowman was killed, Zuckerman said.
“We all thought this was a fair resolution to this case,” Zuckerman explained.
Zuckerman said Sawyer has been extremely remorseful and “literally couldn’t even speak about it” for an extended period of time afterward, as he considered Bowman his best friend. But he said why the killing occurred remained a mystery.
“He can’t say why,” Zuckerman said. “To this day, he doesn’t know why this happened.”
Bowman’s grandmother, Cindy Bowman, and another relative were in court for the hearing, but had no comment on the case as they left. Relatives of Sawyer also had no comment as they exited the courthouse.
Jordan said Sawyer will be supervised for the rest of his life, and Zuckerman said he hoped he would get mental health treatment in prison.
“Two families have been destroyed forever because of the choices Adrian Sawyer made,” Jordan said.
Sawyer is being held in Washington County Jail pending sentencing Feb. 22. He could have faced up to 40-years-to life in prison if sentences for murder and arson were run consecutively.
He waived his right to appeal the conviction and sentence as part of the deal.