Lawyers’ Handling Of Lapointe’s Case,0,3352646.story

Testimony Reviews Lawyers’ Handling Of Lapointe’s Case In 1992

BY HILDA MUÑOZ, [email protected]

9:35 PM EDT, July 7, 2010


— A public defender and a commercial litigation attorney who previously represented Richard Lapointe, a mentally handicapped man serving a life sentence in the 1987 rape and murder of an 88-year-old woman, testified Wednesday in Superior Court in Rockville.

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, testified during the latest hearing seeking a new trial for Lapointe.

Lapointe was convicted in 1992 of raping and killing Bernice Martin, his wife’s grandmother, and then setting her apartment on fire. Lapointe and his wife have since divorced.

Paul Casteleiro, Lapointe’s current lawyer, focused on what Cosgrove and Vogt didn’t do when they handled the case in court.

The time that the fire was ignited and how long it burned weren’t addressed during the trial, Cosgrove testified. Timing would have been addressed if notes from a detective — estimating that the fire burned for 30 to 40 minutes before Lapointe called police — had been made available to the defense, he said. But the detective’s note didn’t surface until after the trial.

Casteleiro argues that the burn time could help Lapointe prove he was with his family at their Manchester condo when the fire at Martin’s apartment started.

When he sought a new trial, Vogt alleged that Lapointe’s public defenders were ineffective.

On Wednesday, Casteleiro asked Vogt why he didn’t question the public defenders about key evidence that Vogt claimed they should have used during the trial.

In several instances Wednesday, Vogt said he did not recall what he asked or did not ask the attorneys during the hearing in the late 1990s. But he did agree that he relied on testimony from a legal expert to prove that Lapointe had had ineffective representation.

Casteleiro rested after Vogt’s testimony and state prosecutor Michael O’Hare called a fire expert to the witness stand to refute previous testimony of John D. DeHaan, an expert called by the defense.

Robert Corry, a self-employed fire investigator, said the fire set on Bernice Martin’s couch was a low-energy fire that mostly smoldered.

Unlike DeHaan, a criminalist and fire investigator from California, who had testified that the fire on the couch burned for about 10 minutes, Corry said determining the longevity of the fire is difficult. He said it could have smoldered for some time.

Corry estimated that the fire was set between 5:45 p.m. when Martin was seen throwing out garbage and about 7 p.m., when her daughter couldn’t reach her on the telephone.

He also contradicted DeHaan’s testimony that the temperature inside the home was 400 degrees when firefighters arrived. Corry said the firefighters would have been burned if the temperature was that high, but they were not injured.