Mentally disabled man convicted of murder freed after ruling

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Posted: Apr 10, 2015 3:49 PM
Mentally disabled man convicted of murder freed after ruling

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Richard Lapointe changed from an orange prison jumpsuit into a black T-shirt that read "I didn't do it," then walked out of Hartford Superior Court on Friday and threw his hands in the air in triumph.

After almost 26 years in prison and 10 days after the state Supreme Court threw out his convictions for the rape and murder of his wife's grandmother, the 69-year-old mentally disabled Connecticut man was freed on a $250,000 bond.

"Of course I didn't do it," Lapointe said during a news conference held later at a local hotel. "That wasn't me. I wouldn't do nothing like that to nobody. I wouldn't even kill my worst enemy."

At his trial in 1992, Lapointe was convicted of killing Bernice Martin, who was found stabbed, raped and strangled in her burning Manchester apartment in 1987. A judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of release.

Lapointe confessed to the crime after a 9 1/2 hour interrogation and prosecutors point to that and other evidence as proof of his guilt.

But the state Supreme Court ruled on March 31 that Lapointe, a former dishwasher, was deprived of a fair trial because prosecutors failed to disclose notes by a police officer that suggest the crime occurred at a time when Lapointe had an alibi.

Murder charges have been refiled, but the prosecutor, Gail Hardy, said the state needs to review the evidence before deciding whether it can go forward with another trial. The state did not refile the capital felony count.

Lapointe is due back in court May 15. His attorney, Paul Casteleiro, said they are hopeful he will not be tried again, pointing out that he already has served the mandatory minimum sentence for the remaining counts.

The notes from Manchester police Sgt. Michael Ludlow indicated that the fire in Martin's home started between 7:50 p.m. and 8 p.m. on March 8, 1987, when Lapointe's now-ex-wife, Karen Martin, said he was home with her.

Lapointe's lawyer and supporters said the evidence also showed Martin was tortured and killed over a long period of time by someone who had killed before. They say their client, with limited mental and physical abilities and no criminal history, could not have committed the crimes.

Lapointe suffers from Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a congenital brain malformation that results in hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Casteleiro said his mental impairment also made him vulnerable to giving a false confession.

"He should not have been in a courtroom in the first place," said Casteleiro. "He should have never been charged. We don't welcome a retrial, but if they want to retry him, we'll be more than prepared."

His case became a cause celebre, receiving widespread publicity from advocates for the mentally disabled and celebrities, including writers Arthur Miller and William Styron. Centurion Ministries, which fights to free those wrongfully convicted of crimes, has represented him free of charge for 15 years.

Lapointe thanked those who had worked to free him, saying he wished he could kiss all of them. He also said he missed his family, whom he is barred from seeing by court order.

Lapointe will be living with a couple from East Hartford who has agreed to take him in while more permanent arrangements can be made, Casteleiro said. He is under a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew and must report to the court whenever he leaves the house.

One of his first requests Friday was for a steak dinner. He also expressed fascination with the smartphones reporters were using during the news conference.

"I'm going to buy me one," he said after Casteleiro showed him that a phone could also take a picture.

Lapointe said that other inmates protected him in prison and that his time behind bars "wasn't that bad," to which attorney Kate Germond quipped, "There goes the civil suit."

Lapointe said he made it through the years by clinging to a single idea.

"I just kept thinking 'I'm going home, I'm going home, I'm going home,'" he said.