On July 13, 1983 a horrible crime was perpetrated against a particularly frail victim. She was 59 and had suffered with a long history or mental illness. She was punched in the face, sexually assaulted and left on the floor of her apartment with her wrists bound together with a telephone cord and her ankles bound with the cord of a hairdryer. In their rush to “solve” the case the Leominster Police quickly settled on Ben LaGuer as their only suspect. Twenty years old at the time he had just returned home from the Army and was living alone in his father’s apartment directly next door to where the crime occurred. He was first identified as a possible suspect by the building superintendent who was having a dispute with Ben’s father over landlord/tenant issues. The police searched the apartment on July 14 when no one was home. On July 15, when Ben was there, police came to question him about the crime and asked him to voluntarily accompany them to the police station, which he did. They told him that the victim could identify her attacker and that they had retrieved fingerprints from her apartment. Ben voluntarily allowed himself to be photographed and fingerprinted for comparison sake. Later that day they arrested Ben and charged him with aggravated rape. Once they settled on Ben as the prime suspect all further investigation of the crime ceased. Also, as evidence indicating Ben’s innocence emerged it was systematically ignored or suppressed. Consider the following:
Police never questioned a man identified by private investigators as a likelier suspect. He was near in age to LaGuer (five years older), his mother had lived in the building where the crime occurred and he had a history of sexual misconduct. Even though this man was charged with a similar crime in 1998 police have to this day not looked into his possible involvement with the crime for which Ben was convicted.
Police obtained a search warrant for LaGuer’s apartment based on a contention that the victim had told them that she had previously seen the assailant enter that apartment several times. At trial, under oath, she denied making that statement.
A set of four fingerprints lifted from the telephone the cord of which was used to bind the victim’s wrist were compared to LaGuer’s and found to NOT match. This information was not shared with the defense even though LaGuer’s attorney made two written requests for the results of fingerprint testing. A photo copy of this fingerprint report came to light in November 2001 through a public documents request but the prints lifted from the phone had been lost or destroyed. (See document below.)
One police report mentioned a knife that was seen on a night table. The knife was never inventoried or introduced into evidence even though it would have been very relevant to the crime and would have been a prime place to seek fingerprints.
One police reports mentions a fingerprint on a Pepsi can found at the crime scene but there is no further mention of the can or the print in any subsequent reports.
There is no indication that the victim’s pocketbook, which was found several blocks away a month after the crime, was ever tested for fingerprints.
The police detective testified at trial that only one partial fingerprint had been retrieved from the crime scene neglecting to mention the set of four fingerprints found on the telephone.
The return on the warrant used to enter LaGuer’s apartment states that “nothing” was taken during the search. Yet clothing including eight socks that had been mentioned in the police report and an item labeled “suspect underwear” turned up in subsequent inventories of the evidence with no legitimate paper trail.
At the outset of the trial the assistant district attorney told the judge that the victim’s history of mental illness had been dealt with and that she was cured years earlier. Recent revelations show that this was not true and that the judge barred the jury from hearing of the victim’s mental illness based on a false representation by the prosecutor.
Private investigators uncovered evidence from a hospital matron that police had shown the victim only one photo (LaGuer’s) at the time of her initial identification two days after the crime rather than an array of photos as the police reported.
In 1999, when LaGuer’s new attorneys found the box of evidence from the trial, a seal placed on the box after a 1989 hearing was broken.
In an April 2001 press release then district attorney John Conte, gave a demonstrably false accounting of why a prosecutor in his office had been searching for the evidence in 1998, possibly accounting for the broken seal.
The question lingers as to what the police may have found had they not completely shut down their investigation of the case after arresting the first suspect that came to their attention. The record shows that at that point instead of fairly evaluating the evidence they had, they systematically cherry picked evidence unfavorable to LaGuer and suppressed or even destroyed evidence that would have exonerated him.