Lapointe Case: Testimony Focuses On Fire, DNA Evidence
By HILDA MUÑOZ
8:31 PM CDT, July 8, 2010
Questions about how long a fire burned at a murder victim’s apartment and possibly tainted DNA evidence on a pair of gloves found at the crime scene were brought up Thursday during a hearing for Richard Lapointe.
The victim, 88-year-old Bernice Martin was raped, stabbed and strangled in her apartment in Manchester on March 8, 1987.
Lapointe was convicted in 1992 and is now in Superior Court in Rockville seeking a new trial. The hearing is scheduled to resume in August.
Robert Corry, a fire expert hired by state prosecutors, testified Thursday that a fire set on Martin’s couch didn’t spread very far because poor ventilation in the apartment and some materials left on a seat cushion prevented it from doing so.
Instead, the fire smoldered, possibly for well over an hour before it was discovered, Corry said. His testimony contradicts that of a fire expert put on the stand by Lapointe’s attorneys in May, who said the fire couldn’t have burned more than 60 minutes.
The fire’s burn time has been a key issue because it could support Lapointe’s alibi. Lapointe, who was married to Martin’s granddaughter, reported the fire at 8:27 p.m. A shorter burn time could place him at home with his family at the time Martin was killed.
Lapointe’s attorney, Paul Casteleiro, suggested during cross examination that Corry’s description of the fire changed after he heard the defense’s fire expert, John D. DeHaan, testify. Corry disagreed.
Casteleiro pointed to a report, written before DeHaan’s testimony, where Corry summarized his findings about the fire and described the flames as moderately heavy. On Thursday, Corry said the flames were “restrained.”
Casteleiro suggested Corry’s testimony differed from parts of his report because he wanted to support the state’s theory about the fire. Casteleiro also asked why there was no evidence of the materials that Corry said had been left on the seat cushion.
Testimony was also heard Thursday about a pair of gloves found at the crime scene. Jody Hynds, a forensic scientist from California hired by Lapointe’s team, previously testified that DNA taken from the gloves was not a match for either Lapointe or Martin.
Carll Ladd, a DNA expert from the state forensic lab brought in by state prosecutors, said Thursday that the independent lab that tested the DNA in 2007 used a newer, unconventional method that is not suitable for forensic evidence.
The method can test smaller DNA samples, but is highly sensitive to contamination. Results from tests done on the gloves are unreliable, he said, because of the likelihood for contamination, especially due to the time lapse since the crime and after a newspaper reporter tried on the gloves in 1994.
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