HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A Connecticut woman convicted of murder for a 1986 shooting death has been granted a clemency hearing after a 24-year-old document questioning her trial lawyer’s work resurfaced.
Bonnie Jean Foreshaw, 65, has been imprisoned for the past 27 years for the shooting death of a pregnant woman in Hartford. She was convicted of premeditated murder, but she has claimed that she shot the woman by accident while trying to defend herself against a man she feared. Her supporters say the shooting should have been a manslaughter case and Foreshaw should have been freed years ago.
Foreshaw was sentenced to 45 years in prison and is set to be freed in 2017, but her lawyers are seeking her immediate release.
The state Board of Pardons and Paroles denied Foreshaw’s application for a clemency hearing last month, but changed the ruling Monday after learning about a 1989 public defender’s memo through newspaper columns, board Chairwoman Erika Tindill said. The board didn’t know about the memo when it rejected the application May 1, she said.
The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 4.
The memo was written by then-public defender Jon Blue, who said he believed Foreshaw didn’t get a fair trial because of serious mistakes made by her trial public defender, Dennis O’Toole. Blue wrote that O’Toole failed to challenge a “highly questionable” confession Foreshaw gave to police, a confession she refused to sign. He also said O’Toole failed to present an effective mental state defense.
“Mr. O’Toole’s performance is, depending on one’s point of view, either disturbing or downright shocking,” Blue wrote.
O’Toole has since retired from the public defender’s office and could not immediately be reached for comment.
Blue, now a state Superior Court judge, wrote the memo to the public defender’s chief appellate lawyer at the time, Joette Katz, who went on to become a state Supreme Court justice and is now commissioner of the state Department of Children and Families.
Tindill said a staffer in her office alerted her to the memo after it was written about in news columns by Andy Thibault, a contributing editor for Journal Register Co. newspapers in Connecticut. Thibault declined to say Thursday how he obtained the document.
“Had it not been for the surfacing of that memo, which we had no idea about, we would not have reconsidered her case,” Tindill said Thursday.
Tindill said she was stunned the memo wasn’t presented with Foreshaw’s clemency hearing application.
Richard Emanuel, a lawyer for Foreshaw, said during Monday’s parole board hearing that he made a mistake not including the memo in the clemency application.
Emanuel said Thursday that his main argument for clemency had been Foreshaw’s efforts to rehabilitate herself, because a judge had rejected the argument that O’Toole had been ineffective in an appeal by Foreshaw.
“Our application and supporting documentation focused on the extraordinary efforts at rehabilitation that Bonnie has made during the 27 years of her incarceration,” he said.
While incarcerated at York Correctional Institution in Niantic, Foreshaw studied writing with Connecticut-based writer Wally Lamb and her work was published in two books featuring York inmates’ writings that were edited by Lamb.
She was convicted in 1987 of murdering Joyce Amos the year before after attending a dance in Hartford’s North End. Foreshaw got into an argument with an acquaintance, Hector Freeman, and Amos outside a convenience store, left the scene and returned with .38-caliber pistol, according to court documents.
Foreshaw testified at her trial that she was scared of Freeman and she shot at him when he moved toward her, court documents say. But Amos was shot instead and later died.
A psychiatrist testified at the trial that Foreshaw had post-traumatic stress disorder after having been abused as a child and being in two abusive marriages. The psychiatrist testified that Foreshaw was scared that Freeman would beat her like her husbands had and panicked, firing the gun before she could really think about what she was doing.
Blue wrote in the memo that O’Toole “bungled” his direct examination of the psychiatrist and failed to present many pieces of evidence about Foreshaw’s mental state.
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