Murder defendant tired, scared

George M. Leniart's murder trial is just beginning, but he is already exhausted, according to his lawyer.

The 43-year-old convicted sex offender, who is accused of kidnapping, raping and murdering April Dawn Pennington in May 1996, is also afraid for his safety, according to attorney Norman A. Pattis.

Leniart, charged last year with murdering the 15-year-old girl, who disappeared from her Montville home 12 years ago, has pleaded not guilty and opted for a trial in New London Superior Court. One of his anticipated defenses is that there is no proof that Pennington was murdered, because police have never recovered her body.

Jury selection began on Monday, and by Friday, Leniart's attorney was informing the court he would seek "injunctive relief" before a civil judge to change the way his client has been transported to and from court by the Department of Correction.

Leniart told Pattis he has been awakened at 3 a.m. every morning so that he could be transported from the MacDougall-Walker Correction Institution in Suffield to the Corrigan-Radgowski correctional facility in Montville. Corrigan serves as a transportation "hub" for prisoners with court appearances in the area. Judge Stuart M. Schimelman encouraged Pattis to do what he felt he had to do, though Schimelman said he would not entertain the petition for relief because he is to preside over the trial. During a recess, the judge called David Strange, a deputy commissioner at the Department of Correction, who offered to move Leniart to Corrigan to allow him a shorter transport and more sleep. Pattis and Leniart talked privately before court resumed.

"I did discuss that with Mr. Leniart and Mr. Leniart is unwilling to be housed at Corrigan for fear of his physical safety," Pattis said.

While waiting at Corrigan to be transported to be taken to New London, Leniart said he has been harassed by "correction officers who inform other inmates that he is a so-called ripper (rapist)," and that gang members have been encouraged to do him physical harm, according to Pattis. The judge said he and the deputy commissioner had not made any decisions regarding how Leniart is being treated at Corrigan, but that Strange said he would contact the warden at Corrigan, "because he has the responsibility to provide safety to all prisoners."

Pattis wondered why his client could not be transported directly from MacDougall, noting that Ian Cooke, another accused murderer who appears in the New London court, was transported individually from MacDougall this week.

The judge told Pattis again that he could take up the issue with another court. At that point, Pattis announced that, "Mr. Leniart reports he is physically exhausted and unable to proceed (with jury selection) this morning." Pattis also said that Leniart informed him he would "no longer voluntarily submit to transport from Walker to Corrigan."

Judge Schimelman continued with jury selection, after noting that Leniart appeared attentive and had been "writing feverishly" to his attorney throughout the proceeding. The judge told Leniart that barring any court order, he would be awakened and transported to court.

"You're going to get a fair trial here," the judge told Leniart. "That's if you cooperate with me."

k.florin@theday.com

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