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Troubled History Led To Slaying

By TINA A. BROWN

The Hartford Courant

November 26, 2007

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When Gerard "Chappy" Chapdelaine was arrested in October after an altercation with his teenage girlfriend, he turned to his longtime lawyer Wesley Spears for help.

Spears leveled with him. Because of his long history of convictions related to family violence and violations of probation, Chapdelaine, 39, could expect to be going away for a while."You are going to jail. And not for 90 days this time. It could be as long as two years," Spears said he told Chapdelaine.

It turned out to be their last conversation.

Spears says Chapdelaine had no intention of going back to jail - he had served 88 days of a 90-day sentence for violating probation earlier in the year - particularly when, in his view, his problems with the women involved were not of his making.

"He felt he was the victim. He definitely blamed the women. His voice was raised and agitated," Spears recalled.

Chapdelaine, who lived with his aunt on Bolton Street in Hartford, decided to take matters into his own hands a day before he was due back in court.

On the evening of Nov. 5, armed with a rusty handgun, he went next door to confront his girlfriend, Jahmesha Williams, the mother of his 3-month-old son, and her mother, Lorna Coley, who he believed was trying to break them up.

He showed up in their driveway, waving the gun. Hartford police came, combed the neighborhood for him and towed his car but could not find him. They then left, over the pleas from the mother and daughter.

Chapdelaine returned close to midnight, broke inside, shot Coley, 47, in the head, and walked out of the house with blood on his hands and face. About an hour later, Wethersfield police saw him walking back and forth across the Silas Deane Highway. When the officers got closer, he fired the gun at them twice, and they shot and killed him. Besides his 3-month-old son, he left the 11-year-old daughter he'd had with another girlfriend.

Almost immediately after the double shootings, family members of Coley and Chapdelaine, his lawyers and law enforcement officials were asking why. What pushed him over the edge? Why this time did he decide to use a gun to resolve his problems? Those who knew him well admit that the slight-framed appliance delivery man with dark hair and a troubled childhood always had difficulty letting go of his relationships with women, especially the mothers of his children.

There was also another question: Why wasn't Chapdelaine behind bars after he was arrested in October while out on lengthy probation from other family-violence convictions?

On Sept. 30, there had been a fight with Williams - there was evidence of scratches and punches exchanged - outside a Berlin Turnpike motel. Newington police arrived and arrested Williams on the spot after determining she had violated a restraining order and angrily struck Chapdelaine's car with a child car seat.

Chapdelaine, who left the scene, had also violated the order, and was arrested a week later. He was freed on bail, even though his arrest violated his probation.

The explanation from state Office of Adult Probation: The paperwork that would have placed him in violation had not been completed.

A TROUBLED HISTORY

Dawn Carl first encountered her biological brother, Gerard, six years ago. She and the man she called her "Little Brudder" met over the Internet and, in the course of the next several years, she became a trusted confidant.

"He was angry about his past," Carl said. Chapdelaine, she said, would call her at her Florida home when he was having trouble with one of his girlfriends and risked a bad breakup.

He had reason to get angry when he felt abandoned, she said.

Chapdelaine was 3 years old when a question about his paternity split up his parents. He and his brother were placed in foster care, she said. At some point his father returned to picked up his brother but left him behind.

From the age of 7, he was raised by foster parents.

That might explain why Chapdelaine would risk his liberty if he couldn't see his children. "He loved his kids. His daughter is devastated by this," Carl said.

Chapdelaine, who attended South Catholic High School and earned a GED in 1991, was no stranger to Hartford-area police. His record of at least a dozen convictions, mostly on family-violence related offenses and probation violations, dates to 1986.

But he seemed to settle down in the mid-1990s and earned a reputation as a reliable appliance delivery man, first at Sears, then at Bernie's.

Still, Spears said, when the polite, soft-spoken, hard-working man drank, he could get loud and nasty.

His troubles, his attorneys say, picked up in 2005 when he and his daughter's mother, Helen Ramirez, split up. At the time, he was living in a house in East Hartford, which he sold that October.

"Ramirez didn't want Chapdelaine to go to jail, but she wanted to be left alone," said Spears, who saw his client arrested four times over a five-month period, beginning in June.

At the time, he and Ramirez were battling in Superior Court over child support, with each party ordered to stay away from the other.

Chapdelaine found himself caught between violating a criminal restraining order and seeing his daughter. He chose the latter. Both he and Ramirez violated the "no contact" order when they met in the parking lot of the Food Bag in Wethersfield, where he picked up his daughter. When he returned the girl to her home, in April 2006, a Wethersfield police officer arrested him for violating the restraining order.

As Chapdelaine was being booked, his cellphone rang, according to the police officer's report. Ramirez was on the phone trying to arrange another visit for their daughter. Chapdelaine handed the phone to the officer, who warned Ramirez that the no-contact order also applied to her. She then became argumentative, telling the officer "when it came to her daughter she didn't care what the order said," according to the officer's report.

Last year Chapdelaine was facing prison when he met Hartford attorney William Horan, whom he had hired after firing Spears. He had violated his probation four times in Hartford and Wethersfield, and his cases were consolidated at Superior Court in New Britain.

"It didn't take much to get him violated [status]," Horan said. "I thought the cases themselves were pretty weak."

Horan negotiated a deal with prosecutors: 90 days in prison and three years of probation. Chapdelaine rejected that deal, fired Horan and returned to Spears.

Horan never saw Chapdelaine as a possible killer. He was the guy who politely fired him over the telephone. He said he had to read the newspaper story about his death three times because he couldn't believe it was the man he affectionately called "Chappy."

THE YOUNG WOMAN

After selling his East Hartford home, Chapdelaine moved to Bolton Street, where he began a relationship with Williams, the daughter of his neighbor, feisty and young enough to be his own daughter.

Unlike Ramirez, Williams hit back when Chapdelaine lashed out at her.

"He felt the girl was battling him, and he would get in trouble when he fought back," a source said.

They had been dating for five months in December 2006 when, during an argument, he threw a lit cigarette at Williams and she threw it back. "She became enraged. He became enraged and hit her in the face and neck," the police record says.

After that incident, Chapdelaine was convicted and sentenced in the criminal cases involving Ramirez.

He received a sentence and probation, with Spears now representing him. A month later, in January 2007, he was found guilty of third-degree assault after the cigarette incident with Williams, and he went to jail for the 90 days that Horan originally had negotiated.

Released in April, he resumed his tumultuous relationship with Williams, over the objections of her mother.

"He blamed her mother for getting in between them and doing things that she couldn't ordinarily do. She was stopping him from seeing his son," Spears said.

Three days before his October arrest, Chapdelaine was ordered into a domestic violence program for repeat offenders. The class, described as a program with a "good track record for changing behavior," had been recommended by his probation officer, who counseled him twice a month.

Asked why Chapdelaine's latest arrest did not immediately trigger a violation of his probation, state officials say Chapdelaine's probation officer was awaiting paperwork from the Newington Police Department. Newington police say they never received a request for the arrest report.

Gary Roberge, the assistant director of Adult Services who supervises the state's probation officers, said that Chapdelaine's probation officer "acted appropriately" in handling Chapdelaine's case. "He used his own judgment that he would seek a violation. He was in the process of preparing the warrant.

It was not submitted to the court. He was waiting for the police report."

The spokeswoman for the Newington Police Department said that, had the probation officer contacted the department, he would have been faxed a copy.

No one knows what set Chapdelaine off the night of Nov. 5.

But the path he took into his neighbor's home was still evident a week later, even as Coley's husband and daughters prepared for her funeral.

There were shards of glass, bullet holes and puddles of blood lying beneath plywood and plastic bags in the living and dining rooms.

When Lorna Coley returned home from her job as a nurse's aide about 8:30 p.m., she saw Chapdelaine standing outside her home, pointing a gun at her daughter's bedroom window. She called police. For the next few hours, Hartford police say, they were unable to find Chapdelaine. Coley and Williams could not be persuaded to go to a shelter.

The police left. About midnight, Chapdelaine returned. He climbed the dozen or so stairs onto the second-floor deck, before firing the rusty .357 revolver into the sliding glass door of the two-family Cape.

He aimed the gun at Williams and it misfired, police said.

Then he fired again, shooting Coley, who was near a chaise lounge in the living room, in the head.

Leaving the home on foot, Chapdelaine crossed into Wethersfield, where a convenience store clerk on the Silas Deane Highway saw blood on his hands and face and called police.

Confronted by police near the Food Bag grocery - where he had been arrested in 2005 after picking up his daughter for an outing - Chapdelaine walked back and forth across the roadway. "It was strange," said Police Chief James Cetran, who knew Chapdelaine from the days when he washed police cars at the Mr. Auto Wash.Chapdelaine fired the gun twice, striking no one, police said. Two SWAT team officers fired back. Chapdelaine died a short time later.

"Something in him must have snapped," Carl said. "He always called me when things weren't going right. I want answers. Can't someone sit me down and tell me what happened? I don't even blame the police department. They did what they had to do. I'm sorry [Williams] lost her mother. It's painful for all of us."

Coley's husband, Donald Brown, said in a brief interview the day before his wife's funeral that she did not want Chapdelaine to continue seeing her daughter. She didn't "deserve to be killed," he said.