Leniart will serve life without parole for rape, murder of Montville teen
George M. Leniart shook his head slightly but did not change his facial expression this morning when a jury foreman announced the panel had found him guilty of kidnapping, raping and murdering April Dawn Pennington in May 1996.
The verdicts - guilty of murder and three counts of capital felony - leave no question that Leniart, a 44-year-old repeat sex offender from Montville, will be ordered to serve the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole when Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed sentences him on April 27.
The state did not seek the death penalty, since the body of the 15-year-old girl was never recovered after she sneaked out of her parents' Montville home.
Prosecutors John P. Gravalec-Pannone and Stephen M. Carney said they were “psyched” by the verdict, since as far as they know it is the first time a Connecticut jury convicted a defendant without a body or other physical evidence.
A few minutes after the jury announced the verdict, Pannone went to his office to call April Pennington's parents in Pleasant Garden, NC.
“We're grateful on behalf of the Pennington family and for the jury's hard work in this difficult task they had,” Pannone said.
State troopers who had investigated the case hugged and high-fived each other in the hallway.
“I'm thankful for the state's attorney's office for having the courage to prosecute what was a difficult case and thankful to the jury for seeing George for what he is,” said Sgt. William Bundy, who had supervised the investigation for the past five years. He said that if April's body is out there to be found, the detectives still want it find it.
Reached by phone in North Carolina, April's father, Walter Pennington, asked for some time before he commented on the outcome of the case. The girl's mother, Hazel Pennington, had often spoken to the media about the case and was planning to attend the trial. She became ill, however, and her doctor advised her not to attend. The father had testified on the first day of the trial and returned immediately to North Carolina.
The state had won the case despite the lack of physical evidence and the fact that four of its key witnesses were incarcerated prisoners. Asked to comment about the case, the jury foreman said he had no comment.
Leniart's attorney, Norman A. Pattis, was not immediately available to comment.