Lapointe’s wrongful conviction

Richard A. Lapointe

Richard A. Lapointe

Lapointe’s wrongful conviction brings back Martin’s cold case because if we take Lapointe out of the equation we are left with no answers. Who killed Bernice Martin?

The decision

The decision to grant a new trial is here (RICHARD LAPOINTE v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION). A few quotes:

On appeal, the petitioner claims that the court improperly rejected his actual innocence and ineffective assistance of counsel claims. We conclude that the court properly determined that the petitioner failed to prove his actual innocence claim, but we agree with the petitioner that the state’s suppression of certain material evidence deprived him of a fair trial and that he was prejudiced by his prior habeas counsel’s failure to pursue that issue at the first habeas proceeding. 

Accordingly, we reverse in part the judgment of the habeas court and order a new trial.

In the Huffington Post, Lapointe’s defense attorney Paul Casteleiro said that “he would seek bail for Lapointe as soon as possible and planned to visit him Wednesday in prison. He said temporary living arrangements for Lapointe, who was arrested in July 1989, have already been put in place if he is able to post bail.”

Explaining why a new trial was ordered

From the Supreme Court’s decision: ‘‘Our use of the term ‘actual innocence’ is of paramount significance. Actual innocence, also referred to as factual innocence . . . is different than legal innocence. Actual innocence is not demonstrated merely by showing that there was insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. . . . Rather, actual innocence is demonstrated by affirmative proof that the petitioner did not commit the crime.’’ (Citations omitted.) Gould v. Commissioner of Correction, 301 Conn. 544, 560–61, 22 A.3d 1196 (2011).

In the present case, the second habeas court concluded that the petitioner failed to meet his burden of
proof because none of the DNA evidence rose to the level of being clear and convincing evidence of factual innocence.”

We conclude that the state’s suppression of the Ludlow note, and Vogt’s failure to pursue that claim, warrants a new trial for the petitioner. We reach that conclusion for the following reasons.

  • Culligan and Cosgrove testified that had the burn time information in the Ludlow note been disclosed prior to the petitioner’s criminal trial, their trial strategy would have changed. They stated that they would have used the thirty to forty minute estimate to buttress the petitioner’s alibi defense, particularly because the estimate came from one of the state’s fire marshals assigned to the investigation.
  • As Culligan testified, the defense would have retained the services of an arson expert. At the second habeas trial, the two experts called by the petitioner testified that the fire could not have been set any earlier than 7:30 p.m.
  • If that testimony had been presented at the criminal trial, and credited by the jury, the petitioner’s whereabouts at and after 7:30 p.m. would have been critical to his defense.
  • For that reason, as both trial counsel testified, they would have called Karen Martin as a witness at the criminal trial. She consistently had maintained that the petitioner was in their home with her and their son the entire evening of the victim’s homicide.18 During her testimony at the suppression hearing, she stated that the only time that the petitioner was not in her sight was between 6:15 p.m. and 7 p.m., when she was bathing their son.
  • If the jury credited Karen Martin’s testimony, it could have concluded that the petitioner was at home watching television with her and their son when the fire had been set.”
Bernice Martin

Bernice Martin

The cold case victim: Mrs. Bernice Martin

As ecstatic as we are that this mentally disabled man is finally getting a chance to have a fair trial we cannot and must never forget that without Lapointe we are back at square one in the cold case of Bernice Martin.

The associate medical examiner, Arkady Katsnelson, performed an autopsy on the victim and determined that she had suffered a three inch deep stab wound to her abdomen and ten less severe stab wounds to her back. He also determined that she had been asphyxiated by pressure to the right side of her neck with a blunt object; she was not manually strangled. Katsnelson observed lacerations and contusions to the victim’s vaginal area as well as premortem first and second degree burns on various parts of her body. His conclusion as to the cause of death was a combination of asphyxia by strangulation and smoke inhalation.”

Who did this to Mrs. Bernice Martin and why?

We need a new team to review her murder. I hope that we do not forget her case just because we are so happy that Lapointe is finally getting fair treatment.

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  1. […] connected using Richard Lapointe‘s case as an example. We still do not know who really killed Mrs. Bernice Martin. In March 2015, the Connecticut State Supreme Court ordered a new trial for Richard lapointe. On […]