Hearing Continues In Lapointe's Bid For New Trial

Hartford Courant

Lawyers for Richard Lapointe continued their effort Wednesday to highlight issues that they hope will convince a Superior Court judge that their client deserves a new trial in the 1987 killing of Bernice Martin.

Lapointe, 64, has been incarcerated since his arrest in 1989. He was convicted in 1992 of raping and killing Martin and setting her apartment on North Main Street in Manchester on fire. He was sentenced to live in prison without the possibility of release.

Every appeal and two attempts so far for a new trial have failed. The hearing now underway before Judge John J. Nazzaro is focusing on evidence that Lapointe's lawyers argue was previously overlooked, including the length of time that Martin's apartment was burning until the first firefighter came through the front door, a pair of gloves found at the crime scene that contained the DNA of someone other than Lapointe, and a pubic hair that did not come from Lapointe.

Lapointe's supporters, and his lawyers, believe that he was wrongly convicted on the basis of three confessions that he made to Manchester police detectives. The confessions contained contradictions but were enough to convince a jury that Lapointe, who has a diminished mental capacity, was guilty.

Those gloves, Lapointe's lawyers and supports suspect, belonged to the person who attacked and killed Martin, the grandmother of Lapointe's wife at the time, on March 8, 1987.

Jody Hynds, a forensic scientist from California hired by Lapointe's team, testified that DNA taken from the gloves was not a match for Lapointe or Martin.

John D. DeHaan, a criminalist and fire investigator from California, testified that the fire in Martin's apartment burned for no longer than 60 minutes. He based that conclusion on burn patterns, damage to the couch in Martin's apartment that was set on fire and a firefighter's description of the heat and smoke he encountered when he opened the door to Martin's apartment.

The couch burned for about 10 minutes, DeHaan testified, then went out because there was not enough oxygen in the apartment. Had there been enough air to feed the fire, "it would have been a very big fire," he testified.

The length of time the fire burned is a key piece of evidence for Lapointe's team because it could provide him with an alibi.

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