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Triple murder trial delayed, civil case a mistrial due to coronavirus threat

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A decision to delay jury selection in the triple murder trial of Sergio Correa, and a mistrial in a civil case in New London Superior court after an attorney disclosed she had a fever, are among the early signs that court proceedings will continue to be disrupted by the threat of the coronavirus.

Connecticut's federal Chief Judge Stefan R. Underhill issued a standing order Wednesday postponing indefinitely jury selection and trials scheduled for the next 30 days at the federal courthouses in Bridgeport, Hartford and New Haven. The order indicates the continuances also apply to motions for speedy trial by criminal defendants, which usually require that jury selection commence within 30 days or the charges be dismissed.

In a separate order, Underhill said court security officers would deny entry into the federal courthouses to anyone diagnosed with COVID-19, anyone who had traveled within the past two weeks to China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Iran, and New Rochelle, N.Y. (other than in a car or train), and anyone who had been advised by a medical official to self-quarantine.

On Thursday afternoon, the state Judicial Branch announced that effective immediately, all civil and criminal trials are suspended for the next 30 days, with the exception of trials that are in progress and those necessitated by the filing and granting of speedy trial motions.

Chief Court Administrator Patrick L. Carroll III also issued a statement indicating state courts will only be open for "Priority 1 business functions" from March 16 to 27. Criminal and domestic violence arraignments will continue, along with juvenile detention hearings, civil and criminal protective orders and urgent juvenile and family matters, including orders of temporary custody, termination of parental rights and domestic violence victim notification.

The slowdown comes as attorneys gear up for the trial of Sergio Correa, who is charged with killing three members of the Lindquist family and burning down their Griswold home during a home invasion in December 2017.

Jury selection in Correa's case was scheduled to begin on Tuesday. The target date to begin jury selection is now April 20.

"It's unprecedented, but we'll just have to weather through it," said New London State's Attorney Michael L. Regan, who is prosecuting Correa. "The last time I recall something like this was after September 11, when they closed the courts and schools. But that was only for a couple of days."

Eric Lindquist, son and brother of the victims Janet, Kenneth and Matthew Lindquist, was disappointed by the delay.

"While there is a need to take appropriate precautions in the face of any public health threat, many of the recent decisions by public officials appear to be premature," Lindquist said in an email. "The most recent decision by the Chief Court Administrator to cancel many court functions will further prolong the delivery of justice and closure for any and all victims who have been preparing and planning around set trial dates."

Attorney Joseph Lopez, who is representing Correa, said the delay is a sign of the times. He would not confirm whether or not he's notified Correa, who is incarcerated.

"I can tell you that he, since I've met him, has been pushing for and asking for his day in court," Lopez said by phone. "He has been on the record, consistently wanting his trial from the day I met him."

On Wednesday, Judge Shari L. Murphy declared a mistrial in a civil case in progress in New London after one of the attorneys divulged she had a fever. Judge Hillary Strackbein, chief administrative judge for the district, said Murphy had consulted with the presiding judge of civil matters, Harry Calmar, before declaring the mistrial.

There were two nursing mothers on the jury panel and a woman over 60.

"It's frustrating to all of us, because we spent the last week and a half not only preparing but picking a jury," said attorney Lawrence H. Adler, who represented the defendants in the personal injury case. "Now we'll have to start all over again. But the clients will still have their day in court."

Also Thursday, the state Department of Correction announced it is suspending all social visits to state prisons effective Friday, and all volunteers will be prohibited from entering the institutions. The DOC also is halting inmate work crews in the community, limiting nonessential transfers of inmates between facilities and limiting recreational groups to one housing unit at a time.

Inmates will be getting two free phone calls per week for the next 30 days to limit the impact of the loss of visits under an agreement with the phone service provider, Securus.

"We are well aware of the importance of visits to the offender population," DOC Commissioner Rollin Cook said in a news release. "This is a difficult, but necessary decision. We have no choice but to take whatever steps necessary to ensure everyone's health and safety."

k.florin@theday.com

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