Connecticut's second-highest court on Monday ordered a new trial for a brain-damaged man serving life in prison for killing his former wife's 88-year-old grandmother in 1987.
Lawyers for Richard Lapointe, 66, argued that new DNA evidence proves he's innocent and that his previous attorneys were ineffective.
The state Appellate Court ruled Monday that Lapointe didn't prove his innocence, but prosecutors had suppressed key evidence and his previous attorney failed to pursue the evidence issue.
Lapointe was convicted in 1992 of killing Bernice Martin, who was found raped, stabbed and strangled in her burning Manchester apartment. Police obtained three signed confessions from Lapointe.
The court said it ordered a new trial because the state suppressed an expert opinion about the burn time of the fire in Martin's apartment that potentially supported Lapointe's alibi.
Lapointe's case was featured on national news shows, and advocates for the mentally disabled and other supporters fought to prove his innocence. They said his mental disability made him vulnerable to being coerced into making confessions.
A prosecutor and two defense lawyers involved in the appeal didn't immediately return messages Monday seeing comment.
A previous appeal had been rejected by the state Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
When Lapointe was a boy, he was diagnosed with Dandy-Walker Syndrome, a congenital condition where a cyst forms on the brain from a buildup of fluid on the skull.
Doctors operated five times, using a shunt to drain the liquid that left him with an enlarged head. But the condition wasn't caught in time. He suffered brain damage that left him with recurring headaches, dizziness and a short attention span. He was unable to finish high school.
But Lapointe led a seemingly normal life. He always had a job doing some sort of physical labor, such as dishwashing, and he even served as president of his condominium association. Prosecutors said his IQ was average.
He married Karen Martin, who had cerebral palsy, in 1977 and they had a healthy son, Sean. Martin's grandmother, Bernice, lived nearby.
Police and prosecutors said that Lapointe, while his wife got their son ready for bed on the night of March 8, 1987, walked to Bernice Martin's home. Authorities said Lapointe threw her on her bed and raped her, then stabbed her with a steak knife and strangled her after she threatened to tell Karen Martin.
Defense lawyers said Lapointe never went over to Bernice Martin's house that night. They said he watched TV while his wife put Sean to bed, and she found him in front of the television set when she came back downstairs about 45 minutes later.
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