In 1992 Richard Lapointe was convicted of the 1987 rape, stabbing and strangulation of Bernice Martin and sentenced to life in prison. Appeals over the years questioning his multiple, wildly varying confessions, lack of evidence and motive, and questionable police procedures have been for naught, all rejected by the courts. After 22 years in prison and several failed appeals you would think the Friends of Richard Lapointe would have given up. But the group pledged to continue their efforts working along with Centurian Ministries to reverse the conviction and see Richard walk free.
Robert Perske, founder of Friends of Richard Lapointe, and George Ducharme, a member of the group since its inception, appear on Manchester Review in March to discuss Richard’s fate and their friendship with him. They share their outrage, details on the appeals and talk about what’s next. Lapointe’s conviction garnered tons of publicity over the years, with features by 60 Minutes, a five-part series in the Journal Inqurier, columns by Rick Green, Tom Condon and Donald Connery, all questioning his conviction.
Approaching the case with skepticism, my research and interview with Mr. Perske and Mr. Ducharme convinced me this was a total failure of justice. It’s hard to understand how Lapointe was convicted given the weak, inconsistent confessions extorted from a naive person after hours of interrogation. It’s hard to believe that the courts rejected the appeals and writs to set him free. Although he does not appear on the show, I interviewed former Manchester Police Captain Joe Brooks who was the Chief of the Detective Bureau at the time. Brooks was so convinced of Lapointe’s innocence that he released him to go home after his confessions. Brooks said he doubted the validity of the confessions and regrets sending them to court for a warrant. Like the late Joe Paterno, he wishes he did more at the time.
A number of books and articles explore how a person of limited intelligence or one with emotional problems can be broken down through hours of police interrogation and confess to crimes they did not commit. Perske’s Deadly Innocence is about a mildly retarded youth, Joe Arridy, convicted and executed in the 1920’s. His article Misunderstood Responses to Police Interrogation demonstrates how characteristics of the intellectually disabled can lead to false confessions. Grisham’s The Innocent Man is a true story about how emotionally disturbed Ron Williamson, an Oklahoma major league draft choice in1971, was convicted of murder, and spent years in jail awaiting execution. He was exonerated in 1999 by DNA evidence. Peter Manso’s Reasonable Doubt highlights the case of a garbageman with intellectual issues whose conviction for murdering an actress on Cape Cod was highly questionable. Robert Tanenbaum explores the issues in Outrage, a fictional account about a low functioning hispanic youth who confessed to charges for a murder he didn’t commit.
As our legislators debate the death penalty this year, one hopes they carefully consider some of the issues that can lead to wrongful convictions.
Perske and Ducharme can be seen on Manchester Review at 9 p.m. Monday nights in March on Cox PATV Channel 15.