Disabled Connecticut man ordered freed after 26 years in prison | Reuters
By Richard Weizel
| HARTFORD, Conn.
HARTFORD, Conn. A mentally disabled Connecticut man who spent a quarter century in prison for rape and murder was freed on Friday after a court found his confession was questionable and he had been denied a fair trial.
Looking frail, Richard Lapointe, 69, emerged from the Superior Courthouse in Hartford wearing a T-shirt that said "I didn't do it" in large letters.
"Of course I didn't do it," he said, raising his hands in triumph as his supporters cheered. "I feel wonderful."
Lapointe confessed to raping and killing his wife's elderly grandmother in 1989 and was sentenced in 1992 to life in prison without parole.
The state Supreme Court last month ruled that his admission was extracted under duress and that he was deprived of a fair trial because prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that supported his alibi.
The court ruled that Lapointe be released or given a new trial, and on Friday Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander ordered him freed on $25,000 cash bail.
Prosecutors have not decided whether to seek another trial. A hearing was set for May 15.
Supporters say Lapointe could not have committed the crime due to his disabilities. He suffers from Dandy-Walker syndrome, which affects brain development and causes intellectual and physical impairments.
They say the former dishwasher, who confessed after nearly 10 hours of police interrogation, was railroaded and barely understood what was happening to him.
The judge rejected a request by prosecutors that Lapointe wear an electronic monitoring bracelet. Defense attorneys say he is barely able to walk and does not present a flight risk.
Afterward, Lapointe, who wears hearing aids and thick glasses, said he craved a steak.
He expressed surprise that his favorite baseball team, the Boston Red Sox, won the World Series three times while he was in prison.
"You gotta be kidding me. They finally got good?" he said.
Kate Germond, director of Centurion Ministries, which fights wrongful convictions, said she was "ecstatic."
"He will finally get to sleep in a real bed and breathe some fresh air today for the first time since his unjust incarceration," she said.
The victim, 88-year-old Bernice Martin, was found raped and stabbed in a burning apartment in Manchester, Connecticut.
Defense attorney Paul Casteleiro said: "It's frightening to realize that the real killer is still out there walking around.
"We would hope the state will not proceed with a new trial," he said.
(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst, Will Dunham and Eric Beech)