What's next for Richard Lapointe? Why not freedom now? Wouldn't another trial just prolong the worst case of wrongful imprisonment in Connecticut history?
Now 66, the brain-damaged man has been behind bars since Manchester police in 1989 spent nearly 10 hours wheedling from him a nonsensical, unrecorded confession to the 2-year-old rape and murder of his wife's grandmother, 88-year-old Bernice Martin.
The accused's most incriminating utterance: "If the evidence shows I was there, and that I killed her, then I killed her, but I don't remember being there."
Richard is slow of mind and body but the state was slower in bringing him to trial. The prosecutors had no solid evidence, just words wrenched from his mouth during an interrogation amounting to psychological torture. When he finally had his day in court in 1992, a jury found him guilty.
Lapointe might have disappeared behind prison walls were it not for The Friends of Richard Lapointe who made his plight nationally known as the most egregious of all the wrongful imprisonments of persons vulnerable because of their mental limitations.
The first-ever national conference on false confessions (in
Yet none of this mattered to Connecticut's top prosecutors. Nor did it matter that our justice system has been rattled for two decades by the
During the nearly quarter-century of his incarceration, the state has been blind and relentless in opposing, in court after court, every effort to give Lapointe true justice.
Perfunctorily dismissed even now are all the fresh signs of his innocence including new DNA findings and the revelation that vital evidence about the duration of the fire set at the murder victim's home — in Lapointe's favor — was concealed from the original defense attorneys and the jury.
Connecticut has displayed the historically worst attribute of prosecutors in high-profile cases all across the country: the refusal to admit that they might be mistaken.
Several years ago, I contacted the now-deceased Capt. Joseph H. Brooks, the retired Manchester police chief whose detectives "solved" the Bernice Martin murder with the wrong man. Saying that the case had always troubled him, he agreed to take a meticulous look at the whole record. He later, quite nobly, gave me permission to publicly announce that he believed Lapointe to be innocent and deserving of a new trial.
In 2011, Superior Court Judge John J. Nazarro denied Lapointe's latest appeal for a new trial. Brooks emailed me to say, "This latest outcome for Richard is as much a perversion of justice as all the proceedings against this man."
This week, Connecticut's Appellate Court reversed Judge Nazarro's decision and ordered a new trial. But why, in all decency, should we make Lapointe wait more years for his chance at freedom? Nowadays, when exonerations of the innocent are commonplace, more and more state's attorneys in controversial cases are willing to concede error or at least say that new evidence or information persuades them that the right thing to do is to release the prisoner immediately.
Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane and his associates need only follow Capt. Brooks' lead while remembering a great precedent for setting Lapointe free.
As long ago as 1924, in State v. Israel (as depicted in the
By so enhancing public confidence in our justice system, Cummings went on to become President