HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A judge on Friday dismissed all charges against a mentally disabled former dishwasher who spent more than a quarter-century in prison in the killing of his wife’s 88-year-old grandmother.
Richard Lapointe’s conviction was overturned in March, with the state Supreme Court ruling that prosecutors failed to disclose notes by a police officer that suggest the crime occurred at a time in which Lapointe had an alibi. He was released from prison on bond in April.
On Friday, prosecutors acknowledged that new DNA testing did not implicate Lapointe and they didn’t have the evidence to go forward with a new trial.
“I told everybody I didn’t do nothing,” Lapointe said as he left the courtroom.
At his trial in 1992, Lapointe was convicted of killing Bernice Martin, who was found stabbed, raped and strangled in her burning Manchester apartment in 1987. A judge sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of release.
Lapointe confessed to the crime after a 9 1/2-hour interrogation, and prosecutors pointed to that and other evidence as proof of his guilt.
Lapointe has Dandy-Walker syndrome, a congenital brain malformation that results in hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Defense attorney Paul Casteleiro said his mental impairment also made him vulnerable to giving a false confession.
Before the hearing, Lapointe shuffled behind a new walker outside the courtroom, asking friends and reporters if they thought he would be forced to go back to prison.
“Do you wanna bet a penny?” he said. “‘Cause that’s all I got.”
On Friday, prosecutors David Zagaya told the judge that some of the old evidence had been contaminated, many of the old witnesses were no longer available and the state’s DNA testing had failed to link Lapointe to the crime.
He said he was still convinced they had prosecuted the right man.
“This is not an exoneration by the state,” he said.
But Casteleiro said the forensic testing actually had excluded Lapointe as the source of DNA.
The defense had argued in its appeals that Martin was tortured and killed over a long period of time by someone who had killed before. Lapointe, with limited mental and physical abilities and no criminal history, could not have committed the crimes, they said.
“We were right. He’s innocent, and they recognized that today,” Casteleiro said. “You don’t dismiss cases against guilty people.”
In dismissing the case, Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander apologized to Martin’s family, saying the justice system had failed them. A family member of Martin’s nodded in affirmation.
Alexander said the decision not to retry the case was not an easy one, but it was the right one.
Prosecutors said Martin’s family was frustrated by the decision to drop the charges.
Lapointe, who turns 70 this month, has been living in a Hartford-area group home. He said he would like to find a job and eventually another place to live but for now was just happy the court case was over.
“I know I didn’t do it, so I’m not going to worry about nothing,” he said. “I can walk down those stairs with my pants — I mean, my head — hung up high.”
(Photo Source: AP)