By SHAUN ROBINSON / VT DIGGER
BURLINGTON — A 48-year- old man pleaded not guilty on Monday in a shooting that wounded three Palestinian American students in the city on Saturday night.
Jason Eaton was charged with three counts of attempted second-degree murder after police said he shot the three 20-year-olds around 6:30 p.m. Saturday on North Prospect Street, according to court documents.
Police have said two of the three men were wearing keffiyehs, a traditional scarf that has become a symbol of Palestinian identity, when they were shot, prompting local and national condemnation of the shooting as a possible hate crime.
No motive was discussed during a short hearing inside a packed room at the Chittenden County Superior criminal court in Burlington Monday morning, during which Eaton appeared via video. Judge A. Gregory Rainville said Eaton would remain in prison while a bail hearing is scheduled. Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George has requested Eaton be held without bail.
Sarah Varty and Margaret Jansch, two public defenders who are representing Eaton, declined to answer questions outside the courthouse after the hearing. Jansch told reporters, “We as human beings hope that the people who were shot recover quickly.” Eaton was detained Sunday af- ternoon and later arrested. That evening, about 150 people gath- ered in front of Burlington City Hall to condemn the shooting and advocate for Palestinian rights. The victims — Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad — all previously attended the Ramal- lah Friends Schools, according to the Quaker institution based in the West Bank. They are now students at different American universities outside of Vermont and were in the city visiting one of their relatives.
As of Sunday, two of the men were in stable condition, while the third’s status was considered serious, police have said.
An affidavit compiled by Burlington police officers described interviews with the three victims from their hospital rooms in which they described going bowling for a birthday party for Awartani’s cousin before walking through Awartani’s grandmother’s Prospect Street neighborhood to finish their cigarettes.
Awartani described speaking a mix of English and Arabic. Aliahmad said the men generally speak both languages, but he did not recall what languages they were using at the time.
Awartani and Aliahmad said they wore black-and-white keffiyehs, police wrote. Abdalhamid, who described himself as a Palestine advocate who had appeared on CBS, said he was not wearing one at the time of the shooting but had donned one earlier in the week.
They described being approached by a white man — Abdalhamid said he was on the porch of a house — who took out a pistol and opened fire. Aliahmad said he did not recall the man saying anything, and Awartani and Abdalhamid did not describe the man saying anything.