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Norwich police Sgt. Robert Blanche, called to The William W. Backus Hospital to help his brother law enforcement officers with a homicide investigation 14 years ago, easily identified the woman whose body was found on a remote stretch of road near the border of Franklin and Norwich.
Michelle Comeau had been one of his first arrests, Blanche testified as the murder trial of Dickie E. Anderson Jr. continued in New London Superior Court Wednesday.
Anderson, 41, is accused of fatally strangling Renee Pellegrino in 1997 and Comeau in 1998. On the second day of the trial, prosecutor Stephen M. Carney introduced Comeau to the jury with testimony from passing motorists who found her body, and from police officers who investigated. Blanche, who began walking a downtown beat in Norwich in 1993, said he had arrested Comeau several times for prostitution and drug-related crimes.
"Michelle was ... she was kind of a sad individual," Blanche testified. During the booking process, she admitted she suffered from bipolar disorder, depression and Tourette's Syndrome, he said.
On May 1, 1998, Blanche and his partner, Patrick Daley, were on foot patrol on Franklin Street when Comeau walked by them at about 5 or 5:30 p.m., according to court testimony. About three hours later, a passing motorist called 911 to report a naked woman lying in the middle of New Park Avenue. Later that night, Blanche and Daley went to the hospital to confirm Comeau's identity for state police.
Sisters Amy Langlois and Tara Mullane testified that they left their Norwich apartment with their stepfather, the late Robert Gilman, and were driving to the Ramada Inn to use the pool when they came across a naked body in the middle of the road. Their father pulled over, instructed them to stay in the car and called police. Langlois was 6 years old at the time, and Mullane was 10. Mullane testified she saw a truck driving away from the scene and said she believed the body came from the truck.
Computer programmer Winston Chin testified he had just left his job at Computer Sciences Corp. in Norwich Industrial Park when he noticed a minivan had stopped in the road. He said he initially thought the car had struck a deer, then he realized there was a dead person in the middle of the road.
He said she was lying face up. He felt for a pulse but there was none, though her neck was warm to the touch. Based on her condition, he said, he decided not to attempt CPR. Chin said he took a jacket from the trunk of his car and covered the body head to torso because, "It was the right thing to do."
State trooper Donald Aitken said two members of the local fire department were there when he arrived, and an ambulance pulled up a short time later. Aitken said when it became apparent they were going to transport the body to the hospital, he retrieved a Polaroid camera from his car and took pictures.
Aitken said the woman had red marks on her neck and wrists. He said her arms were stretched out to the sides, her head "to one side," and her feet, about 6 inches apart. The state claims that Comeau and Pellegrino, also found naked on a remote stretch of road, were similarly posed. The trooper said by the time he took the first photograph, the emergency medical staff already had moved Comeau's body.
Anderson's sister, Tanya Anderson, was on the witness stand Wednesday when the trial broke for the day. The sister was on the state's witness list but also wanted to observe the trial, so prosecutor David J. Smith agreed to take her out of turn. She testified that Anderson had lived with her family at her Fern Street townhouse for about two months in June 1997.
Tanya Anderson said she did not allow smoking, drinking or drugs in her home, and would not allow a prostitute into the house. In a statement to police, Anderson said that he and Pellegrino had sex in his sister's basement hours before Pellegrino's body was found on Waterford Parkway South on June 25, 1997. Tanya Anderson, who slept on the second floor, testified that she did not hear any commotion that night. She will return to the witness stand when the trial continues today.