A three-judge Connecticut Appellate Court panel ordered a new trial Monday for Richard Lapointe, a brain-damaged man who was convicted in 1992 of the rape, stabbing and strangulation of Bernice Martin in her burning Manchester apartment in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison.
In a 3-0 ruling on Monday, the panel held that Lapointe's defense failed to prove his innocence during the initial trial, but ordered a new trial because prosecutors suppressed critical evidence in the case that may have supported Laponte's alibi.
"We conclude that the court properly determined that the petitioner failed to prove his actual innocence claim, but we agree with the petitioner that the state's suppression of certain material evidence deprived him of a fair trial and that he was prejudiced by his prior habeas counsel's failure to pursue that issue at the first habeas proceeding," the decision said. "Accordingly, we reverse in part the judgement of the habeas court and issue a new trial."
The panel's full ruling can be viewed here.
According to the Associated Press, lawyers for Lapointe argued before the appellate court that his previous attorneys were ineffective and that new DNA evidence could be used to prove his innocence. Bernice Martin was Lapointe's former wife's grandmother who lived a short walk away from the Lapointe's in Manchester in 1987.
Police obtained three signed confessions from Lapointe admitting to the crime, although various groups have rallied around Lapointe in recent years, noting how easy it is to coerce a confession out of a mentally-handicapped individual after hours of intense interrogation. Lapointed suffered from Dandy-Walker Syndrome as a child, according to the Associated Press, a condition where cysts form on the brain due to the build up of fluid on the skull, which left him with recurring headaches, dizziness and a short attention span.
Manchester Review Host Jack Peak blogged about the case on Patch earlier this year. Peak said that during his research into Lapointe's conviction, he interviewed Manchester Police Captain Joe Brooks, who was chief of the detective bureau at the time. Peak wrote that Brooks was so convinced of Lapointe’s innocence that he actually released him to go home after his confessions.
Supporters of Richard Lapointe hailed the news on the Friends of Richard Lapointe website Monday.