21-year-old recording could be key in Lapointe case
By Robert D. Muirhead
Defense lawyers hope to use that tape to prove to the court their contention that Morrissey coerced Lapointe into signing false confessions and lied under oath during Lapointe’s 1992 trial.
This is Lapointe’s third appeal since his conviction. He’s serving a life sentence in the rape and slaying of Bernice Martin, his wife’s 88-year-old grandmother, at her apartment at Mayfair Gardens, a complex for the elderly on North Main Street in Manchester. Firefighters responding to a smoky blaze at her apartment found her body. She had been bound, raped, and stabbed, and her couch was set on fire.
The case garnered national attention after questions were raised about whether Lapointe’s confession, given two years after the crime amid a nine-hour interrogation by Manchester police, was coerced.
Lapointe was born with a brain malformation, and has been described as having mental retardation, though the extent and nature of his cognitive deficit have been debated in court.
The recording of the interview between Martin and Morrissey, which was played Thursday and into Friday before Vernon Superior Court Judge John J. Nazzarro, was made July 4, 1989, on the same night that Manchester police first interrogated Lapointe.
Defense lawyer Paul Casteleiro challenged Morrissey’s use of aggressive police interview techniques in his interview with Martin, including misrepresenting the scope of information the police had regarding the investigation into Lapointe. Martin, who has since divorced Lapointe, has cerebral palsy.
At one point during the interview, Morrissey told Martin that she needed to think about someone to care for her son, in case she was arrested for hindering prosecution for lying to police.
“You threatened to take her son away,” Casteleiro said.
Martin testified that Morrissey’s comments regarding the custody of her son had frightened her, and that during the interview he had twisted her words. “He said everything, and then turned it around like I knew it,” Martin said.
Morrissey told the court that he had gone into the interview under the impression that Martin was a hostile witness and had given investigators misleading information in 1987, which had stalled the investigation for two years.
Martin initially told police the wrong blood type for Lapointe, which excluded him as a suspect because of the blood type found in semen samples in the apartment. Lapointe’s blood type, however, does match those samples.
Morrissey also told the court that the interview techniques he used were common police practice, and that the comments regarding her son weren’t meant to be threatening, but that he was merely advising Martin of a potential real-world situation.
Casteleiro also pointed out inconsistencies between the taped interview and Morrissey’s testimony in the 1992 trial.
In a transcript of suppression hearings from 1992, Morrissey tells the court he didn’t tell Martin that police had any specific evidence to link Lapointe to the murder. In the tape of the 1989 interview, however, Morrissey lists a number of evidentiary specifics that point to Lapointe’s guilt, including the contents of Bernice Martin’s stomach.
Morrissey said Friday he couldn’t be sure how he interpreted the question in 1992, but that he definitely knew of specific evidence in the case before the interview.
Though the prosecution didn’t get a chance to cross-examine Morrissey before the conclusion of court Friday, it had attempted to stop the defense from calling him as a witness. The prosecution had attacked Morrissey’s relevance as a witness, questioning whether his role in the case was of importance.
Nazzarro disagreed. “It’s pretty clear Mr. Morrissey’s credibility is a central issue in this case,” he said. “I can’t imagine his testimony not being relevant.”
The hearing was continued until later in the summer, due to court scheduling conflicts.