Lapointe’s Bid For New Trial Resumes
By HILDA MUÑOZ
July 6, 2010
Richard Lapointe, a mentally disabled man serving a life sentence for the 1987 rape and murder of his then-wife’s grandmother, is scheduled to return today to Superior Court where his lawyers will resume their battle for a new trial.
Manchester police Det. Michael Morrissey, the last witness before Judge John J. Nazzaro called a recess in May, is expected to continue testifying, said Lapointe’s attorney, Paul Casteleiro.
He said other witnesses who may testify include Christopher Cosgrove, Lapointe’s public defender during the criminal trial, and Henry Theodore Vogt, who sought a new trial for Lapointe in the late 1990s.
Lapointe was convicted in 1992 of raping and killing 88-year-old Bernice Martin and setting her apartment in Manchester on fire. But his supporters, who say investigators coerced three confessions from the mentally challenged man, believe he is innocent.
The habeas corpus hearing, scheduled to take place today, Wednesday and Thursday, is the third and, likely, the last opportunity for a new trial. Two other attempts failed and he has exhausted all criminal appeals.
Once Casteleiro rests, state prosecutor Michael O’Hare said he intends to call expert witnesses to rebut previous testimony of experts called by Casteleiro.
“We’re calling a DNA expert and a fire expert,” O’Hare said.
Lapointe has a rare hereditary condition called Dandy Walker Syndrome, which causes parts of the brain to develop abnormally. He has been described as gullible and susceptible to suggestion, qualities his lawyers argue caused him to confess to crimes he didn’t commit.
In his confession, Lapointe said he raped and stabbed Martin, his now-former wife’s grandmother, on her living room couch. He also said that she was wearing a pink house dress.
While questioning Morrissey in May, Casteleiro elicited responses that showed Manchester police had evidence that contradicted key points in the confession, including evidence suggesting Martin was stabbed on her bed, not her living room couch.
In his questions Casteleiro also pointed out that police knew of a witness who saw Martin in dark slacks and a blue sweater about two hours before she was killed. Clothes similar to those were found at the crime scene.
Previous testimony during the hearing has focused on the length of time Martin’s apartment was on fire, DNA evidence and a pubic hair.
A forensic expert hired by Lapointe’s team testified that DNA taken from a pair of gloves found at the crime scene was not a match for Lapointe or Martin. The pubic hair did not come from Lapointe.
A fire investigator testified that the fire in Martin’s apartment burned no longer than 60 minutes. The burn time could provide Lapointe with an alibi.
Casteleiro has argued that the police and prosecution in Lapointe’s trial improperly withheld a Manchester detective’s notes that the fire burned for 30 to 40 minutes before Lapointe called police. He argues Lapointe can prove he was with his family at their Manchester condo when the fire started.
When Karen Martin, Lapointe’s ex-wife, testified, she said Lapointe was with her and their son when her mother was killed. But there were 45 minutes or so when she went upstairs to bathe the boy. She said she assumed Lapointe was elsewhere in the home, but that he could have been out walking the family dog.
The prosecution is arguing that Lapointe raped and killed Bernice Martin and set her house on fire during those 45 minutes.
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