Thursday, November 23, 2006

Is This the Justice You'd Want?

Your son comes home from Iraq and celebrates his twenty first birthday with his friends. In the course of the evening he and a friend visit several places to see old friends and drink. No one asks as they leave the last bar who is driving. Tragedy strikes. While driving home a little boy is run over and the car spins out of control, going off the road, flipping several times, ejecting both occupants. The boy who was hit and your son's friend die shortly after from their injuries. The officer that arrived at the scene says your son was the driver and is charging him with two counts of vehicular homicide, and aggravated drunk driving. When you son becomes conscious again he states that he was not the driver, but suddenly the blood evidence that would have proven him innocent is now missing. He is convicted on all counts with no physical evidence. He appeals for a new trial based on lost evidence, but his conviction seems to serve as proof of his guilt in the eyes of those whose job it is to administer justice on behalf of public good. The horror of the scene fuels public outrage, seeming to prevent him from getting justice.

Sound like a far fetched horror story? I have written this to parallel the case against Ben LaGuer, a man who had come back from serving in the army and just turned twenty years old when a heinous and violent crime was committed against his neighbor. When you take a look at this case without the assumption of guilt, the facts paint a very different picture than what we would expect of a man convicted of rape,and sentenced to life more than 23 years ago. In the rush to find the guilty party, many mistakes were made. Investigators may have come to another conclusion had they bothered to look further. When the facts of this case are laid out together they point to the strong possibility that we have jailed an innocent man, but they most certainly call for a second look, and a new trial.

On July 14, 1983 Leominster's Detective Carignan obtained a search warrant for Ben LaGuer's apartment by stating the victim said she saw the assailant enter Ben's apartment. Later the detective would tell a grand jury that the crime took place in Ben's apartment, and that the victim identified Ben by name. All three points have been refuted by the victim herself. She was shown a picture of Ben LaGuer by Detective Carignan while in her hospital bed still reeling from the attack and said it was the assailant. Later they would find out she has schizophrenia, a disease that causes it's sufferer to confuse similar people as being the same person. Then they find out that the police had found a likelier suspect that matched Ben's description so perfectly that his own father once mistook him for Ben at a distance. This man had previously lived in the building, had a history of sexually abusing family members, had already spent time in a mental institution, and since Ben has been behind bars, has gone on to be convicted of rape. No forensic evidence was ever found to link Ben to this crime. He was convicted solely on the victim's ability to identify him. She was 59 years old at the time, had problems with her vision along with the schizophrenia. The one piece of evidence that may have saved him was the phone that the assailant ripped off the wall only ten minutes before police arrived. The fingerprints on it that did not match Ben's. The test results were verified two days after the attack, yet District Attorney John Conte's office claimed the report was still not ready for the January trial six months later. The report dated July 16, 1983 surfaced 18 years after the conviction. The physical fingerprint evidence is still missing.

Ben Laguer has maintained his innocence all these years despite the fact that in doing so he keeps himself behind bars. Had he taken the plea bargain they offered,he could have been free in only two years. The parole board continues to reject him based solely on his claim of innocence. He continues to hope for a new trial. There are many more disturbing facts that I have not shared with you about this case. If you are interested in a more detailed account visit BenLaGuer.com. Before you look away to more pleasant subjects and decide not to involve yourself, remember that the same justice system that served Mr. LaGuer serves you as well. The statue of Justice is blindfolded so that she may listen to the facts without prejudice. She is not meant to be deaf or dumb to those facts, otherwise justice is not served.

You can contact District Attorney John Conte's office and voice your concerns by calling 508-775-8601, faxing 508-831-9899, by email elizabeth.stammo@state.ma.us, or by writing to:
John Conte, District Attorney
Courthouse room 220
2 Main St.
Worcester, MA 01608

Let them know how you feel. If their case against Ben LaGuer has merit they should not fear a new trial, and that the questions in this case demand one.

1 comment:

Fair Trial for Ben LaGuer said...

The Alternative Suspect

Thanks John for your interest in the LaGuer case and your willingness to speak up.

A couple of things, though. The alternative suspect was not identified by police but by private investigators LaGuer's attorney at the time hired. The other thing is that this man was never convicted of rape. He was charged with rape but the DA offered him a plea bargain.

Here's the deal. LaGuer was 20 and just home from the Army when his 59-year-old next door neighbor was beaten and raped. The police immediately zeroed in on LaGuer based on his ethnicity and that he was living next door. There was no investigation to speak of. The detective didn't look for other suspects or even talk to other tenants in the building. All he did was concentrate on making the evidence fit his theory that LaGuer did it. When evidence pointing to LaGuer's innocence (such as the fingerprint report at the heart of the current challenge to the conviction) surfaced he just ditched it.

LaGuer had a chunk of cash coming to him from the GI Bill. He signed that over to his lawyer who hired a pair of private investigators. They discovered that word on the street was that another man committed the crime. They were able to ascertain that he was five years older than LaGuer, similar in build and within one inch of the same height and also Puerto Rican. They also found out that his mother had lived in the same apartment complex and that he had been sent to Worcester State Hospital for observation relating to "a history of sexual-related episodes of misconduct." They put this information along with his social security number into their report. The police had access to this information but they never followed up on it. By the time LaGuer's lawyer was preparing the case several months later in the fall, LaGuer had run out of money and his lawyer told the private investigators that he couldn't have them do the leg work that the police should have been doing. The lawyer was able to negotiate a plea bargain under which LaGuer would have walked two years after his arrest but LaGuer refused to take it and the lawyer went to trial ill-prepared.

Fifteen years later, a couple of months before LaGuer's first parole hearing, this same man was charged with the crime of rape. There was an important difference and an important similarity between that crime and the one for which LaGuer was convicted. The difference was that it was not a stranger rape. It was his live-in partner who made the charge. The similarity was that the police report describes a modus operandi very much like what happened to the woman LaGuer was convicted of raping. Apparently the crime began with a punch in the face, followed by verbal abuse and threats, followed by rape.

The question, of course, is if the fingerprints police in the 1983 crime found on the base of the trimline telephone, the cord of which was used to bind the victim's wrists, didn't match LaGuer's, then might they have matched this other man's? The fingerprint report and the prints themselves were hidden from the defense at the time of trial, and now the State Police say they can't find the prints themselves. Five state reps and three state senators have written letters inquiring about the whereabouts of those fingerprints but they have all been stonewalled.

The district attorney, who has been in office for 30 years (he is retiring next month) has steadfastly refused to look at voluminous new evidence that has come to light since LaGuer's conviction. Every time there is a challenge to the conviction he digs in his heals and, as we have been able to document, twists the evidence to make it look like the case against LaGuer was much stronger than in actually was. So the answer to your question is that he has never addressed the fact that there is an alternative suspect, much less investigated this man or called on him to explain himself.