Nearly 21 years ago, as Richard Lapointe was confessing to raping and killing Bernice Martin and setting fire to her Manchester apartment, a Manchester detective stopped by Lapointe's condominium.
It was the Fourth of July 1989, and Det. Michael Morrissey arrived in the late afternoon to question Karen Martin. Back at Manchester police headquarters, detectives were in the midst of a 9½-hour interrogation of Lapointe, during which he confessed three times to the crime.
Karen Martin was called to testify Thursday at a hearing on what is likely her former husband's last chance to win a new trial. A jury found him guilty of murder, capital felony, arson murder and other crimes in 1992, and he was sentenced to life in prison.
Karen Martin answered a few questions from Lapointe's lawyer, Paul Casteleiro.
"Do you recall the day your grandmother died?" Casteleiro asked.
"Yes, I do, it was a Sunday," she responded. She recounted her family's Sunday routine — go to church, visit with her 88-year-old grandmother, Bernice Martin, then go home for Sunday dinner. That evening a relative called to say that she could not get in touch with Bernice Martin and that she wanted Richard Lapointe to check on her, Karen Martin recalled.
"Richard went over," she said. "He left the house. He went over there. The next thing I know [police] officers were there telling me I had to go to the hospital."
Casteleiro asked what time Lapointe left. "It was 7 o'clock," she responded. "I remember the time."
But at a hearing several years ago, and during Morrissey's tape-recorded interview with her in July 1989, Martin said that Lapointe left their condo at 8 p.m. to go to Bernice Martin's apartment. Casteleiro asked Martin if she remembered saying that. No, she responded.
Casteleiro and a group of people supporting Lapointe contend that the timing is an important piece of information in their quest to win Lapointe a new trial. They argue that Lapointe did not have enough time to commit the crime, and that evidence about how long the fire in Bernice Martin's apartment burned provides Lapointe with an alibi. Superior Court Judge John J. Nazzaro will decide.
With Martin not able to recall much of her July 4, 1989, interview with Morrissey, Casteleiro played a recording of it that Morrissey made. Two-thirds of the recording was played Thursday and the rest is to be played when the hearing resumes this morning.
On the portion heard Thursday, Martin offered little to help police. She said that Lapointe left their home about 8 p.m. and that the only other time he was away from the house that afternoon was for about 20 minutes when he walked the dog. The 911 call reporting the fire came at 8:27 p.m.
With fireworks audible in the background, Morrissey pressed on, telling Martin that the March 8, 1987, killing of her grandmother had been solved and that her husband had done it.
"The investigation is over," Morrissey, who is now retired, told her. "We're here for the why. Why did this happen?" But Martin, who, like Lapointe, is disabled, could offer no explanation to the detective.
Lapointe's supporters have criticized Manchester police for the long interrogation of Lapointe, contending that they coerced the mentally challenged man into confessing three times to a crime he did not commit. Those same supporters, who have attended the hearing now underway at Superior Court in Rockville, expressed shock when they heard Morrissey's questioning of Karen Lapointe.
"We're sure he's responsible for what happened to Mrs. Martin," Morrissey told Karen Martin. "There's a lot of reasons for that." Morrissey mentioned DNA evidence when, in fact, there was none.
Police have defended their questioning of Lapointe, saying that they employed tactics that police commonly use and that have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.