Hartford Courant

Judge Terms Lapointe's Petition A Waste Of Court's Time

By MELISSA BRUEN, Courant Staff Writer

August 3, 2007

Richard Lapointe, convicted 20 years ago of killing his wife's grandmother, will not get a new trial.

In a written decision in Rockville Thursday, Superior Court Judge Stanley T. Fuger denied the request for a new trial, which means Lapointe will remain behind bars for life, plus 60 years, without the possibility of parole.

Fuger said the evidence put forward by Lapointe's attorney was much like his 83-page petition - "exceeding in extraneous detail, yet lacking in key substance." And more than one-third of the 177 exhibits presented at a hearing July 16-20 for a new trial were completely irrelevant to the case.

The denial of a new trial, the second time Lapointe has been denied one, drew an angry response from his supporters.

"If Judge Fuger and Richard had been in an elevator stopped between floors for an hour, his ruling would have been different," said Robert Perske, 79, founder of the Friends of Richard Lapointe, a group of supporters who believe Lapointe is innocent.

At the hearing two weeks ago, Lapointe's lawyer, Paul Casteleiro of New Jersey, argued that his client, now 61, deserved a new trial on the grounds that his public defenders in 1989 did not provide him with adequate representation and that his lawyer in a bid for a new trial in 2000 was ineffective.

After four days of hearings, Michael O'Hare, the assistant state's attorney, asked the judge to dismiss the case because there was not enough evidence for a new trail. O'Hare said Thursday that "the burden [of proof] in a case of habeas corpus is particularly high, and it was evident that the petitioner fell short of meeting their burden."

"Judge Fuger announced at the beginning of the [hearing] that he knew nothing about the case," said Casteleiro, who plans to appeal. "His decision displays a lack of knowledge of the record of the facts."

To get Lapointe's case heard, Casteleiro had to prove that Lapointe's counsel was ineffective during his original trial and in his bid for a new trial, which meant he had to prove that Lapointe's counsel's errors were so serious that he was deprived of a fair trial.

Casteleiro said Lapointe's defense had been negligent by not calling Karen Martin, Lapointe's ex-wife, to testify in the trial or previous hearing.
Martin testified during the July hearing, but Fuger said her testimony was not helpful. Not only was she unaware of her husband's whereabouts for 45 minutes while she was bathing their son, she said that he left the house to walk their dog, he said.

Furthermore, Fuger said, the hearing was a waste of the court's time.

"It is an abuse of the writ to waste the court's time and resources with a habeas petition such as the petitioner's ... [that] lacks even rudimentary evidentiary support," Fuger said.

Yet the Friends of Richard Lapointe, who has a mental disability, remain confident of his innocence.

"How could he do it? It was a highly athletic murder. Boy Scout knots were tied around her neck and arms - Richard could hardly tie his shoes," said Perske, who has been making the hourlong trip from his house to visit Lapointe at least once a week for the past 17 years.

"I can't understand how the judge missed it this time," Perske said.

"If there had been recordings of the three confessions he wouldn't have gone to jail," Perske said. "I'm just at a loss for why this judge did not do his homework."

Contact Melissa Bruen at mbruen@courant.com.

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