How Did Lapointe Know Bernice Martin Was Raped?Posted: May 13, 2015 Filed under: Appellate Law | Tags: lapointe 1 Comment
As the State of Connecticut considers whether to retry Richard Lapointe, and as many of his supporters try to persuade the state not to do so, I offer readers this short, yet significant, excerpt from the Connecticut Supreme Court’s 1996 decision rejecting his direct appeal from his conviction for murdering Bernice Martin, his wife’s eighty-eight year old grandmother:
The jury further could have found that a stain on the victim’s bedspread was human semen from a person who was a secretor with Type A blood. The defendant has Type A blood and is a secretor. The semen stain also was found to contain no sperm, which is consistent with the semen of a person who has had a vasectomy. The defendant had a vasectomy after the birth of his son in 1979. On March 9, before any information regarding a possible sexual assault became known to the police or the public, the defendant stated in a conversation with Eileen Giacalone, a friend of the Lapointe family, that “it was a shame they killed an old lady, but they didn’t have to rape her, too.” When asked in a June, 1989 interview by Detective Paul Lombardo how he had learned that the victim had been sexually assaulted, the defendant responded that he had been informed by a doctor at the hospital on the night of the murder that the victim had been strangled, stabbed and sexually assaulted. The medical personnel who had attended to the victim unanimously testified, however, that they did not check the victim for sexual assault trauma when she was at the hospital that night and, further, that it would have been highly unusual for them to have done so under the circumstances. Other family members who had been present at the hospital corroborated the testimony of the medical personnel who said that there had been no mention of sexual assault at the hospital. (Emphasis supplied.)
I do not know whether Richard Lapointe murdered Bernice Martin. But murder convictions are often based on circumstantial evidence. When a suspects reveals his knowledge of facts that only the actual perpetrator of a crime could know, well, that is strong circumstantial evidence of the suspect’s guilt. (Note: Lapointe’s statement to the police during the June 1989 interview was not among the statements/confessions that he challenged as unlawful and inadmissible.) Whether it is proof beyond a reasonable doubt is for a jury to decide.
UPDATE: I should have noted that the majority opinion in the Supreme Court’s recent decision granting Lapointe a new trial discusses this issue, stating that Lapointe testified at his original trial that he had “overheard someone at the hospital discussing the fact that the victim had been sexually assaulted.” The majority described this as a “perfectly plausible” explanation for how Lapointe knew that Martin had been raped. Apparently, the jury in the original case did not find it so plausible. (Note: Justice Palmer wrote the majority opinion; he is also the only member of the current court who was on the court in 1996, when it affirmed Lapointe’s conviction.)
The majority opinion also discusses expert testimony at the original trial that the absence of sperm in semen is not unusual. Again, it is for the jury to consider the significance of this testimony.
The majority’s discussion of the trial testimony on these two points reads like a defense advocate’s brief, not like an impartial appellate court reviewing the evidence in the light most favorable to sustaining a jury verdict, as an appellate court must–and as the Supreme Court did in its 1996 opinion.
We acknowledge so much more about memory errors today than we did in 1996. I infer that Eileen Giacalone was not taking contemporaneous notes of exactly what LaPointe said to her. I’d be curious about when she first mentioned this to police or someone else who was taking notes. I light of what the Court has acknowledged in Guilbert about memory and the risk of good-faith error, if Giacalone testified today, I expect the defense would be far more able impeach her claim as a good-faith mistake contaminated by after-acquired information about the crime and the investigation.