In a stunning decision, the state Appellate Court Monday ordered a new trial for Richard Lapointe, a mentally disabled dishwasher convicted of a murder a quarter century ago, concluding that state prosecutors wrongly withheld a police report that tends to support Lapointe’s alibi defense.
“We cannot say that (Lapointe) is factually innocent and did not commit the crimes for which he was convicted,” the decision said. “However, we do conclude that there is a reasonable probability that the result of his criminal trial would have been different had” the police report been disclosed to Lapointe’s lawyers at his trial.
The appellate decision, written by Judges Bethany J. Alvord, Stuart D. Bear and Joseph H. Pellegrino, said the failure of police and prosecutors to provide Lapointe with a police report on the duration of a fire set when the victim was killed “deprived him of a fair trial.” The court also concluded that Lapointe’s defense was hurt further by the failure of one his lawyers to press the fire report issue during an earlier habeas corpus hearing.
Accordingly, we reverse in part the judgment of the habeas court and order a new trial,” the decision, written by Alvord, said.”
In a ruling last April, Superior Court Judge John J. Nazzaro rejected Lapointe’s second habeas corpus petition. Nazzaro found there was no proof that DNA samples found in Martin’s apartment, which could not be linked to Lapointe, belonged to the killer, and that the evidence did not exonerate Lapointe or prove his innocence.
The court said it ordered a new trial because the state didn’t disclose an expert opinion about the burn time of the fire in Martin’s apartment that potentially supported Lapointe’s alibi.
Judge Bethany Alford wrote in the 3-0 ruling that the state failing to disclose the information to the defense “affected the overall fairness of the trial and was so unfair as to undermine our confidence in the jury’s verdict.”
I have posted extensively about the Lapointe case so I am not going to repeat myself. The major posts are underneath this one in the section “related posts” and of course, Lapointe has his own category on my blog. This case has been near my heart ever since I worked for Amnesty International in the 90s. The police misconduct was my first concern combined with the arson analysis and the limitations for Lapointe who has Dandy Walker Syndrome.
I cannot say that Lapointe factually did not commit this crime but the length of time police took to arrest this man, and then questioned him for hours without a guardian present … and the different confessions Lapointe gave … there is much room for reasonable doubt.
But while I root for Lapointe, let’s not forget the victim: Mrs. Bernice Martin. On March 8, 1987, fire fighters were called to the Mayfair Gardens Elderly Housing Complex, Manchester, Connecticut. They found Mrs. Bernice Martin, 88 years old, barely breathing, and badly beaten. She died later that evening in the hospital. Mrs. Martin was the grandmother of Richard Lapointe’s then-wife, Karen Lapointe.
The fire department found the front door locked but the glass sliding door in the back was open. The curtain that should have been on the sliding door was on the floor. A pried open latch on the rear screen door was clearly the point of entry. Mrs. Martin was lying near the entrance to the bedroom, naked, except for some shredded clothing on her upper body. There was a piece of red fabric tied to a piece of bluish gray fabric tightly knotted with Boy Scout knots around her neck and arms. She had 10 less severe stab wounds in the back, and 1 three-inch deep stab wound in the abdomen. All Mrs. Martin’s wounds were suffered premortem, i.e., while she was still alive. During the autopsy, the medical examiner concluded that Mrs. Martin had been strangled with a blunt object. There was also evidence of sexual assault; however, a blunt object caused the vaginal trauma. No semen was found in her body. The blunt weapon was never found. It could have been a household item that has always been overlooked.
The assault had started in the bedroom. Semen and blood were found on the bed. A knife blade was found in the bedding. It later tested negative for blood. What may have been a charred handle of the knife was found in the living room. It also tested negative for blood. However, it was never conclusively established whether the knife blade was part of the murder weapon or not. A pair of men’s gloves was found in the bedroom. The left glove was found on the left side of the bed above the bloodstain. The right glove was found to the left of the bed on the floor. The gloves did not to belong to Lapointe. They are obviously too big for him and they did not belong to Mrs. Martin either.
The attacker had set several fires. One fire was set on the living room couch, one fire near the refrigerator door handle, and one fire near a kitchen drawer handle. Unfortunately, no fingerprints were found. Police did take a partial print from the handle of the glass sliding door of a neighbouring apartment, where someone had cut the screen door the night before.
Other attacks on seniors occurred in this area. I think our answers can be found with the people who were casing the elderly apartment complex. Not with Lapointe.