Leniart sentenced to life in prison

A Superior Court judge called George M. Leniart "a sexual predator in the true sense of the word" this morning as she sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of release for the 1996 murder of 15-year-old April Dawn Pennington.

Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed told Leniart he had caused Pennington's family "a lifetime of grief and loss" and that it is clear that he is not capable of rehabilitation. The girl's body was not recovered after she disappeared from her family's Montville home on May 29, 1996.

"You took the life of a beautiful 15-year-old girl for your own gratification," Jongbloed said.

The judge delivered her remarks after Leniart and defense attorney Norman Pattis stated Leniart had been wrongfully convicted and that an appeal is planned. Leniart said PJ Allain, a man who testified he was with Leniart and April Pennington on the night she disappeared, was responsible for the murder.

State troopers who had pursued Leniart for years sat shoulder to shoulder in the front row of the courtroom gallery for the sentencing. Stephanie Buckley, a friend of April Pennington, sat in the second row. She had brought to court a poster containing pictures of a smiling Pennington and a poem written in her memory.

A jury convicted Leniart, a repeat sex offender, in March after a trial that had highlight testimony from a woman who had been sexually assaulted by Leniart as a teenager and from jailhouse informants who said Leniart bragged of getting away with Pennington's murder. New London state's attorneys John P. Gravalec-Pannone and Stephen M. Carney had brought the case to trial despite the difficulty of proving a murder without a body.

State police Sgt. William Bundy, supervisor of the detective unit that investigated the case, said he was proud of the detectives and hopeful that the sentencing would be the first step for healing for all of Leniart's victims over the course of the years. Bundy also renewed his promise to April Dawn Pennington's family, saying that if the girl's body could be found, "We will find her."

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