Lapointe v. Comm'r of Corr., No. 19079.

CourtSupreme Court of Connecticut
Writing for the CourtPALMER, J.
Citation316 Conn. 225,112 A.3d 1
Decision Date31 March 2015
Docket NumberNo. 19079.
PartiesRichard LAPOINTE v. COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION.

316 Conn. 225
112 A.3d 1

Richard LAPOINTE
v.
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION.

No. 19079.

Supreme Court of Connecticut.

Argued Sept. 17, 2013.
Decided March 31, 2015* .


112 A.3d 6

Timothy J. Sugrue, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Kevin T. Kane, chief state's attorney, Jo Anne Sulik, supervisory assistant state's attorney, and Michael E. O'Hare, former senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellant (respondent).

Paul Casteleiro, pro hac vice, with whom was W. James Cousins, for the appellee (petitioner).

ROGERS, C.J., and PALMER, ZARELLA, EVELEIGH, McDONALD and ESPINOSA, Js.

Opinion

PALMER, J.

316 Conn. 229

This certified appeal by the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, requires us to decide whether the Appellate Court correctly concluded, contrary to the determination of the habeas court, that the petitioner, Richard Lapointe, is entitled to a new trial on the charges underlying his 1992 conviction of capital felony and other offenses because prior habeas counsel (first habeas counsel) rendered ineffective assistance in failing to demonstrate that the state withheld certain exculpatory evidence prior to trial in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), and its progeny, the disclosure of which would have supported an alibi defense. We agree with the petitioner both that he was deprived of a fair trial because his rights under Brady were violated and that his first habeas counsel's representation was constitutionally deficient in that counsel failed to establish that violation. We therefore affirm the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The respondent's appeal arises out of events that have their origin in the early evening hours of Sunday, March 8, 1987, when the victim, eighty-eight year old Bernice Martin, was raped, bound and murdered in her Manchester apartment, which her killer thereafter set ablaze in an apparent effort to destroy all evidence of the crime. The case remained unsolved until early 1989, when police focused their suspicions on the petitioner, the then forty-two year old mentally impaired husband of the victim's granddaughter, Karen Martin (Martin), with whom the petitioner resided

112 A.3d 7

along with their eight

316 Conn. 230

year old son. Until then, the petitioner was not a suspect: he had no criminal record or history of violence of any kind, and he seemed physically, mentally and temperamentally incapable of the brutal crime. Nevertheless, on July 4, 1989, over the course of a nine hour stationhouse interrogation by the Manchester police that lasted until the early morning hours of July 5, the petitioner gave three written statements in which he purported to take responsibility for the victim's murder. The petitioner repeatedly told the police, however, that he had no recollection of killing the victim and that he was confessing only because they wanted him to do so.

On the basis of these statements, the police obtained a warrant for the petitioner's arrest, and he ultimately was charged with capital felony and arson murder, among other offenses. Following a jury trial, he was convicted as charged1 and sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of release.2 After this court affirmed his conviction; State v. Lapointe, 237 Conn. 694, 739, 678 A.2d 942, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 994, 117 S.Ct. 484, 136 L.Ed.2d 378 (1996) ; the petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus, claiming, inter alia, that his due process rights were violated because the state had failed to disclose a note, authored by Detective Michael Ludlow of the Manchester Police Department (Ludlow

316 Conn. 231

note), containing details concerning the length of time that the fire burned inside the victim's apartment prior to being discovered. The petitioner claimed that the note was both exculpatory and material under Brady3 because it purported to identify the time frame within which the fire was set, and Martin would testify that the petitioner was home, with her and their son, during that entire period, thereby providing the petitioner with a complete alibi. First habeas counsel, however, failed to pursue the claim, and, consequently, the first habeas court, Freed, J., rejected that claim as abandoned, as well as the petitioner's

112 A.3d 8

other claims on the merits. On appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the judgment of the first habeas court. Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 67 Conn.App. 674, 681, 789 A.2d 491, cert. denied, 259 Conn. 932, 793 A.2d 1084 (2002).

The petitioner subsequently filed the habeas petition that is the subject of this appeal, alleging, inter alia, that the state's failure to disclose the Ludlow note deprived him of due process of law and that his first habeas counsel had rendered ineffective assistance under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984),4 by failing to pursue

316 Conn. 232

and prove that claim. The second habeas court, Fuger, J., dismissed the claim, concluding, inter alia, that the petitioner had not established a prima facie basis for the exculpatory nature of the Ludlow note because, despite its existence, he could not account for his whereabouts for the entire window of time within which the victim was murdered. The petitioner appealed to the Appellate Court, which reversed in part the second habeas court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 113 Conn.App. 378, 404, 966 A.2d 780 (2009). The Appellate Court's decision was predicated on its determination that the Ludlow note, when viewed in the light most favorable to the petitioner and considered together with certain statements from Martin as to when the petitioner was home with her, was exculpatory because it tended to support a finding that he could not have committed the crime in the requisite time frame. See id., at 392, 966 A.2d 780.

At the proceeding following the Appellate Court's remand of the case to the habeas court, the sole issue with respect to the Ludlow note was whether it was material. In support of his claim that the note was material, the petitioner presented expert testimony concerning the length of time the fire burned in the victim's apartment. Based on the burn time estimates of the petitioner's two experts, which were consistent with the notation that had been made in the Ludlow note, the fire was set in a relatively narrow window of time. The petitioner also presented evidence establishing that, if the state had disclosed the Ludlow note as required, his trial counsel would have called Martin as

316 Conn. 233

a witness, and Martin would have testified that the petitioner was home with her during the time frame within which, according to the petitioner's burn time experts, the fire was set. The respondent also presented expert testimony concerning the likely burn time of the fire. Under the far longer burn time estimate proffered by the respondent's expert, the petitioner could not establish, even with Martin's testimony, that he was home during that entire period. At the conclusion of the trial, the third habeas court, Nazzaro, J., rejected the petitioner's claim that his first habeas counsel was ineffective for failing to pursue a Brady claim on the basis of the state's nondisclosure of the Ludlow note. In particular, the third habeas court found that the testimony of the respondent's

112 A.3d 9

expert was far more persuasive than the testimony of the petitioner's experts and that it was not reasonably probable that, if the jury at the petitioner's criminal trial had heard the testimony of the petitioner's experts, it would have credited that testimony and reached a different result.

On appeal to the Appellate Court from the judgment of the third habeas court, the petitioner argued, inter alia, that, contrary to the finding of the third habeas court, he is entitled to a new criminal trial at which the jury would decide how much weight to assign to the testimony of the petitioner's experts. The Appellate Court agreed, concluding that the determination of which expert or experts were most persuasive was an issue to be decided by the jury at a new trial. See Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 138 Conn.App. 454, 476–77 and n. 17, 53 A.3d 257 (2012). Accordingly, the Appellate Court reversed in part5 the judgment

316 Conn. 234

of the third habeas court and remanded the case with direction to grant the petition for a writ of habeas corpus and for a new trial. Id., at 480, 53 A.3d 257.

We then granted the respondent's petition for certification to appeal, limited to the following issue: “Did the Appellate Court properly determine that the [petitioner's] first habeas counsel was ineffective for failing to pursue a claim that the state had...

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76 practice notes
  • State v. Ayala, SC 19888
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 24, 2019
    ...statements" and "refused to answer certain questions during her direct testimony"); Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction , 316 Conn. 225, 323, 112 A.3d 1 (2015) (discussing weakness of state's case in [context of claim pursuant to Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83, 87, 83 S. Ct. 1194, 10 L.......
  • Kaddah v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 19512
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 31, 2017
    ..."the only remedy possible for this claim is the granting of a new second habeas trial." Citing Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 316 Conn. 225, 229, 112 A.3d 1 (2015), in which this court upheld the Appellate Court's order of a new criminal trial in connection with a second habeas pet......
  • In re Yasiel R., SC19372
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 18, 2015
    ...before—this court exercises its supervisory authority "too broadly, too readily and too often." Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 316 Conn. 225, 457, 112 A.3d 1 (2015) (Espinosa, J., dissenting). In light of recent decisions expanding the scope of that authority; see id., 268-72; Blum......
  • State v. Armadore, SC 20248
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 23, 2021
    ...that, hours after the shooting, he confessed to her that he had shot someone that night.[19] See Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 316 Conn. 225, 323 n.70, 112 A.3d 1 (2015) (‘‘[t]his court has long recognized that confessions represent the most damaging evidence of guilt'' (internal ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
76 cases
  • State v. Ayala, SC 19888
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • September 24, 2019
    ...statements" and "refused to answer certain questions during her direct testimony"); Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction , 316 Conn. 225, 323, 112 A.3d 1 (2015) (discussing weakness of state's case in [context of claim pursuant to Brady v. Maryland , 373 U.S. 83, 87, 83 S. Ct. 1194, 10 L.......
  • Kaddah v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 19512
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 31, 2017
    ..."the only remedy possible for this claim is the granting of a new second habeas trial." Citing Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 316 Conn. 225, 229, 112 A.3d 1 (2015), in which this court upheld the Appellate Court's order of a new criminal trial in connection with a second habeas pet......
  • In re Yasiel R., SC19372
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • August 18, 2015
    ...before—this court exercises its supervisory authority "too broadly, too readily and too often." Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 316 Conn. 225, 457, 112 A.3d 1 (2015) (Espinosa, J., dissenting). In light of recent decisions expanding the scope of that authority; see id., 268-72; Blum......
  • State v. Armadore, SC 20248
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • March 23, 2021
    ...that, hours after the shooting, he confessed to her that he had shot someone that night.[19] See Lapointe v. Commissioner of Correction, 316 Conn. 225, 323 n.70, 112 A.3d 1 (2015) (‘‘[t]his court has long recognized that confessions represent the most damaging evidence of guilt'' (internal ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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