By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A prosecutor urged the state Supreme Court on Tuesday to deny a new trial for Richard Lapointe, a brain-damaged man whose supporters have been trying for two decades to win his freedom on claims he was wrongfully convicted of killing his ex-wife’s 88-year-old grandmother.
Assistant State’s Attorney Timothy Sugrue told the justices they should overturn a ruling last year by the state appeals court that granted Lapointe a new trial after concluding the state failed to give Lapointe’s lawyers evidence that may have supported an alibi defense during his 1992 trial.
Sugrue said the evidence– a police officer’s notes– would not have changed the jury’s verdict, because the prosecution had a lot of other proof.
“You can’t overlook the compelling evidence of guilt,” Sugrue said.
Lapointe, 67, was convicted of capital felony, murder, sexual assault and other crimes for the 1987 killing of Bernice Martin, who was found stabbed, raped and strangled in her burning Manchester apartment. A judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of release, setting off efforts by high-profile supporters such as writers Arthur Miller and William Styron to prove his innocence.
Lapointe, who didn’t attend the arguments, remains detained pending the Supreme Court’s ruling. It’s not clear when the justices will issue a decision.
Hoboken, N.J., lawyer Paul Casteleiro, who represents Lapointe, called on the Supreme Court to uphold the Appellate Court ruling and grant Lapointe a new trial. Casteleiro said he believes the police officer’s notes would have swayed jurors toward not-guilty verdicts.
At issue in the case is where Lapointe was when the fire at Martin’s apartment began.
Lapointe, who had gone to Martin’s apartment to check on her at the request of a family member, called 911 to report the fire shortly before 8:30 p.m. on March 8, 1987. Firefighters found Martin’s body inside.
Manchester Sgt. Michael Ludlow later talked with state fire marshals and took notes of the conversation. The defense says Ludlow’s note indicates the fire started sometime between 7:50 p.m. and 8 p.m., when Lapointe’s now ex-wife, Karen Martin, said he was home, showing that Lapointe couldn’t have started the fire.
Defense lawyers said they didn’t know about Ludlow’s notes until 1999, and if they had known they would have presented more evidence of an alibi for Lapointe at his trial.
Sugrue said there was plenty of other proof including Lapointe’s confession, physical evidence including a semen stain and pubic hair and his telling a family friend that Bernice Martin had been raped, before police had any information of a sexual assault.
Lapointe’s lawyers and supporters say the confession was false. They say his mental disability made him vulnerable to giving a false confession. They also say the pubic hair didn’t match Lapointe’s and the semen stained only showed it came from someone with the same blood type as Lapointe.
One of Lapointe’s supporters, Peter Reilly, was convicted of killing his mother in Falls Village in 1973 but later exonerated. He said he was coerced into giving a confession in his case during an hours-long interrogation by police.
Reilly attended Tuesday’s Supreme Court arguments.
“I’m here to see Richard Lapointe get justice. He’s been denied it for 20 years,” Reilly said. “He’s never had due process. It’s been all tricks and manipulation.”
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