HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) – The case of a brain-damaged man who had his conviction in the 1987 killing of his ex-wife’s 88-year-old grandmother overturned on appeal and was awarded a new trial is one of the high-profile cases the Connecticut Supreme Court will hear when it returns from summer break next month.
The high court is set to hear Richard Lapointe’s case on Sept. 17. Other widely publicized cases before the court include whether Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools Paul Vallas is qualified to hold his job, and whether Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration violated a minimum staffing requirement for state troopers, among other cases.
Lapointe, 67, has been in prison for more than two decades for the killing of Bernice Martin, who was found raped, stabbed and strangled in her burning Manchester apartment on March 8, 1987. He was convicted in 1992 of murder, sexual assault, arson and other crimes, with key evidence including his confessions.
The state Appellate Court overturned his convictions and ordered a new trial last October, saying prosecutors withheld key evidence during the trial that may have supported an alibi that Lapointe was home watching television when Martin was killed.
Supporters and advocates for people with mental disabilities have argued for years that Lapointe, who has brain damage, could not have committed the crimes and his mental capacity made him vulnerable to making false confessions. High-profile supporters such as writers Arthur Miller and William Styron rallied to prove his innocence.
Lapointe’s lawyer, Paul Casteleiro, said the main issue in the case is the suppression of evidence.
“People always wonder how people who are innocent get convicted,” he said. “Well, this is one of the ways. It’s a window into how things go wrong, and innocent people pay a horrible price for it.”
State prosecutors say Lapointe is Martin’s killer and the Appellate Court was wrong to overturn his convictions.
In the Bridgeport case, Superior Court Judge Barbara Bellis ruled in June that Vallas isn’t qualified to be the city’s superintendent of schools and ordered him removed from office. Vallas, who previously led school districts in Philadelphia, Chicago and New Orleans, and state Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor are appealing Bellis’ decision.
The state Supreme Court ruled last month that Vallas could stay on the job during the appeal. Arguments before the high court are set for Sept. 23.
Although Vallas isn’t certified to be a Connecticut school superintendent, a state law passed last year allowed him to get a certification waiver if he completed an education leadership program approved by the state Board of Education. But two city residents, including retired state Judge Carmen Lopez, filed a lawsuit challenging the validity of the program Vallas completed, leading to the Supreme Court case.
Justices also will hear an appeal Sept. 19 on whether the state violated a Connecticut law requiring a minimum number of state troopers.
The state police union sued Malloy and state public safety Commissioner Reuben Bradford in 2011, saying the state wasn’t abiding by the law requiring a minimum of 1,248 troopers. The law was passed in 1998 in response to the killing of Heather Messenger by her husband in their Chaplin home, because trooper staffing levels at the time resulted in the nearest trooper being 18 minutes away from Messenger’s home when she called 911.
Malloy and state lawmakers eliminated the 1,248 trooper requirement last year and now say the union’s lawsuit is moot. But the union’s lawyers say the state violated the union’s rights by eliminating the staffing requirement while the lawsuit was pending and applying it retroactively to the case.
The state now has about 1,050 troopers, the lowest staffing total since the late 1990s.
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