State v. Lapointe

Decision Date16 July 1996
Docket NumberNo. 14635,14635
CourtConnecticut Supreme Court
PartiesSTATE of Connecticut v. Richard A. LAPOINTE.

John R. Williams, with whom was Norman A. Pattis, New Haven, for appellant (defendant).

Mary H. Lesser, Assistant State's Attorney, with whom were Rosita M. Creamer, Assistant State's Attorney, and, on the brief, James E. Thomas, State's Attorney, and Dennis O'Connor, Senior Assistant State's Attorney, for appellee (State).


CALLAHAN, Associate Justice.

The defendant, Richard A. Lapointe, was convicted by a jury of capital felony in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54b(7), arson murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54d, felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c, murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a, arson in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-111, assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a- 59(a)(1), sexual assault in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-70(a), sexual assault in the third degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-72a(a)(1)(A) and kidnapping in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-92(a)(2)(A). 1 At the penalty phase hearing subsequent to the defendant's conviction of capital felony, the jury found that the state had proven an aggravant beyond a reasonable doubt but also found that the defendant had proven a mitigant by a preponderance of the evidence. The defendant thereafter was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release in accordance with General Statutes (Rev. to 1991) § 53a-46a(f). 2

The defendant claims that the trial court improperly: (1) failed to suppress various oral and written statements he had made to officers of the Manchester police department, both because the statements were obtained without a knowing and voluntary waiver of certain of his constitutional rights and also because the statements were involuntary; (2) concluded that article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution does not require the police to record electronically all confessions of detained suspects when such recording is feasible; and (3) found that a state's witness was unavailable to testify at trial and, therefore, improperly admitted an audio recording of the witness' prior testimony. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The jury reasonably could have found the following facts. On March 8, 1987, the defendant called the emergency telephone number, 911, to report a fire at the Manchester apartment of the victim, Bernice Martin, his wife's eighty-eight year old grandmother. Manchester firefighters entered the smoke-filled apartment and found the victim lying on the floor approximately six to eight feet from a burning couch. The victim was only partially clad and a piece of fabric was tied tightly around her neck. Other fabric was tied loosely about her wrists. The firefighters noted a bloodstain on the bed in the apartment. Paramedics who arrived at the scene attempted unsuccessfully to resuscitate the victim and subsequently transported her to a hospital where she was pronounced dead shortly after her arrival. Medical personnel did not examine the victim for sexual trauma on the night of her death and did not provide the family with any information pertaining to the cause of death. A priest in attendance, however, did tell family members gathered at the hospital that the victim had been stabbed.

A knife blade and a melted brown plastic knife handle were found in the victim's apartment. The victim's underwear was found on the floor of the apartment to the right of the bed. No latent fingerprints were discovered at the scene due to fire and water damage. It was determined that the fire in the victim's apartment had three points of origin--the couch, near which the victim had been found, and two towels that were hanging in the kitchen. There was no evidence that an accelerant had been used to hasten the fire's progress. The couch, which had extensive fire damage, was tested and found to burn at a very slow rate and to emit copious amounts of smoke.

At approximately midnight on the night that the victim's body was found, Detective Edward Wilson of the Manchester police department interviewed the defendant. The defendant told Wilson that on March 8, from approximately 2 to 4 p.m., he had visited the victim at her apartment with his wife, Karen and his son, Sean. 3 The defendant also told Wilson that after the family had returned home from their visit he had not left the house until his wife's aunt, Natalie Howard, 4 had called between 7:30 and 7:45 p.m., asking him to check on the victim because she was not answering her telephone. 5 The defendant further told Wilson that, while he was walking to the victim's apartment in order to check on her, 6 he had smelled smoke. He also said that after arriving at the apartment and receiving no answer to his knock, he had attempted to enter both the front and the back doors but that both doors were locked. 7 The defendant stated that the back door felt warm to the touch.

The defendant said that he then had gone to the apartment of Jeannette King, a neighbor of the victim, to call his wife and Howard. Despite having smelled smoke and having felt the heat of the door to the victim's apartment, the defendant made no effort to secure emergency assistance at that time. Rather, he walked to King's apartment and knocked on the door furthest from the victim's apartment. 8 When King opened the door, the defendant greeted her calmly and without any sign of urgency. The defendant asked King for change for a quarter so that he could use a pay telephone down the road. King, who had met the defendant previously, invited him to use her telephone. He did so, calling both his wife and Howard and telling them that the victim had not answered her door and that she must have been sleeping. He never mentioned to either his wife or Howard that he had smelled smoke or that the door to the victim's apartment had been warm to the touch. Howard reminded the defendant that the victim never went to bed as early as 8 p.m. and told him that she was going to the victim's apartment immediately to check on the victim. The defendant then left King's apartment and returned to the victim's apartment. The defendant claimed that upon returning to the victim's apartment, he saw smoke emanating from under the eaves. He then returned to King's apartment, again knocked on the more distant of the two doors, and, when admitted, called the 911 emergency telephone number.

On March 9, an autopsy of the victim's body by the medical examiner revealed that the victim had suffered a three inch deep stab wound to her abdomen and ten less severe stab wounds to her back. The medical examiner also determined that the victim had been strangled and that she had sustained premortem first and second degree burns. The cause of death was determined to be a combination of strangulation and smoke inhalation. 9 The autopsy also revealed, for the first time, that the victim had suffered extensive hemorrhaging as well as lacerations and contusions to her vagina.

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.

On March 9, officer Wayne Rautenberg interviewed the defendant at the Manchester police station. During the interview, the defendant exhibited considerable curiosity concerning the results of the autopsy and asked if there had been causes of death other than smoke inhalation. 10 The defendant's curiosity was further manifested by his persistent questions to Wilson and Captain Joseph Brooks of the Manchester police department concerning the status of the investigation and whether he was a suspect. These inquiries were made during numerous chance encounters that the defendant had with the officers in Manchester between the dates of the victim's death and the defendant's arrest.

The police investigation of the victim's death remained open and unresolved until March, 1989, when, due to internal changes at the Manchester police department, Lombardo was assigned to the case. Because the investigation had been dormant for some time, Lombardo decided to reinterview all those persons who had been interviewed previously. For that purpose, Lombardo called the defendant in June, 1989, and asked if he would submit to another interview. The defendant initially responded, "Why, am I a suspect?" The defendant, however, acquiesced to Lombardo's...

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67 cases
  • State v. Schiappa
    • United States
    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 23 Marzo 1999
    ...of the unavailability of a witness will be overturned only if there has been a clear abuse of discretion." State v. Lapointe, 237 Conn. 694, 738, 678 A.2d 942, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 994, 117 S. Ct. 484, 136 L. Ed. 2d 378 (1996); accord State v. Rivera, 221 Conn. 58, 62, 602 A.2d 571 (1992)......
  • State v. Cobb
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    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 7 Diciembre 1999
    ...pool of similar cases consists of: (1) State v. King, supra, 249 Conn. 645; (2) State v. Webb, supra, 238 Conn. 389; (3) State v. Lapointe, 237 Conn. 694, 678 A.2d 942, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 994, 117 S. Ct. 484, 136 L. Ed. 2d 378 (1996); (4) State v. Ross, supra, 230 Conn. 183;115 (5) Stat......
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    • Connecticut Supreme Court
    • 1 Junio 2004
    ...Ross II, supra, 230 Conn. 183 (four murders that are basis for present appeal); Cobb II, supra, 251 Conn. 285; State v. Lapointe, 237 Conn. 694, 678 A.2d 942, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 994, 117 S.Ct. 484, 136 L. Ed. 2d 378 (1996); State v. Hafford, 252 Conn. 274, 746 A.2d 150, cert. denied, 53......
  • State v. Lockhar
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    ...the testimony of the police over that of the defendant in evaluating the voluntariness of a confession. See, e.g., State v. Lapointe, 237 Conn. 694, 731-33, 678 A.2d 942, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 994, 117 S. Ct. 484, 136 L. Ed. 2d 378 (1996); State v. McColl, 74 Conn. App. 545, 565-66, 813 A.......
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4 books & journal articles
  • The Remarkable Tenure of Justice Richard Palmer
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 93, 2021
    • Invalid date
    ...'must draw its meaning from evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society'"). [34] State v. Lapointe, 237 Conn. 694, 678 A.2d. 942 (1996). The majority opinion was authored by (then) Chief Justice Callahan. Justice Palmer was part of the majority, with Justice B......
  • Significant Developments in Criminal Law 1995-1996
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 71, 1996
    • Invalid date
    ...A.2d 917 (1996). 64 175 Conn. 398, 399 A-2d 1269 (1978). 65 State v. James, 237 Conn. at 416. 66 State v. James, 237 Conn. at 428-434. 67 237 Conn. 694, 678 A.2d 942 (1996). 68 State v. LaPointe, 237 Conn. at 732. 69 223 Conn. 635, 647, 613 A.2d 1300 (1992) (declining to adopt the federal r......
  • Connecticut Appeliate Review
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 71, 1996
    • Invalid date
    ...673 A.2d 1098 (1996). 24 7hw, it was Minnesota v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366 (1993). 25 237 Conn. 390, 678 A.2d 1338 (1996)(en banc). 26 237 Conn. 694, 678 A.2d 942 (1996)(en banc). 27 236 Conn. 1. 670 A.2d 1288 (1996) (en banc). justice Berdon concurred, finding the caw justiciable but not ri......
  • Significant Developments in Criminal Law: 1999-2000
    • United States
    • Connecticut Bar Association Connecticut Bar Journal No. 74, 1999
    • Invalid date
    ...98 250 Conn. 385, 736 A.2d 857 (1999). 99 Id. at 408. 100 Id. at 412-13. 101 Id. at 420. 102 Id. at 433. See, e.g., State v. Lapointe, 237 Conn. 694, 747, 678 A.2d 942 (Berdon, J., dissenting), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 994 (1996). 103 Pinder, 250 Conn. at 434 n.4. ...

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