Intense fire the focus as hearing gets underway in Griswold triple murder case

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The intense fire that consumed the Lindquist family's custom-built ranch house on Dec. 20, 2017, in Griswold was the focus of testimony as a probable cause hearing began Monday in New London Superior Court in the case of Sergio Correa.

Correa, 28, is accused of setting that fire, and of torturing and killing Janet, Kenneth and Matthew Lindquist, during a vicious crime spree allegedly carried out with his adopted sister Ruth. Charged with crimes that could land him in prison for life, Correa is exercising his right at a hearing at which the state must prove it has enough evidence to prosecute him.

The hearing is expected to last through Wednesday and feature testimony from Ruth Correa, who is cooperating with the state in a bid for leniency in her own case. She is expected to begin testifying Tuesday.

Spectators filled Judge Arthur C. Hadden's courtroom as State's Attorney Michael L. Regan called his first witnesses, Robert "Bob" Thibeault to the witness stand. Thibeault lives directly across the street from the Lindquist home in the Kenwood Estates subdivision and was Ken Lindquist's best friend of 40 years.

Thibeault said that when he returned home from a Christmas party the previous night, the Lindquist home was quiet, with a few holiday candles aglow in the front window. He said he woke up at 5:00 the next morning to see that his own bedroom was "completely lit orange." He said he looked out the window toward the Lindquist home, saw that it was engulfed in flames and screamed for his wife to call 911.

"I ran across the street to see if I could save them," Thibeault testified. "As I was approaching the house, you could feel the intense heat from the fire."

Thibeault could not find a way to enter the house, and eventually was sent home by first responders. He snapped a picture with his phone that showed flame shooting into the sky from the left and right sides of the Lindquist home.

According to the testimony of the next witness, state police fire and explosive Detective Michael Hoagland, the center of the home, deemed a point of origin for the fire, had already been consumed by the time Thibeault took the photo. Hoagland said a second point of origin was in front of the garage, where investigators found the melted remains of a plastic gas container.

The third point of origin was Ken Lindquist's work truck, a 1977 Ford F-150, that was parked in the driveway. Hoagland testified there was a liquid accelerant poured into the cabin of the truck that did not ignite. The truck was spared, and Lindquist's surviving son, Eric, drove it to court Monday.

Victim advocates from the Judicial Branch and Survivors of Homicide attempted to make the family and friends of the Lindquists as comfortable as possible throughout the day, offering food and quiet spaces where they could go if needed. Pet Partners and Groton Town Police brought therapy dogs to the second-floor hallway to help soothe the survivors.

Hoagland narrated a video that showed the charred remains of the Lindquist home and what he described as the "unfortunate" discovery of two bodies within. Janet Lindquist's body was discovered in the basement on top of a pile of debris, an indication that she was on the upper floor when it collapsed, according to Hoagland.

Kenneth Lindquist's body, not discovered until hours later, was covered by 18 inches of debris, an indication that he perished in the lower level, according to testimony. Investigators noticed there was heavy trauma to his skull. Mrs. Lindquist had less extensive marks on her skull, according to testimony.

Their son Matthew Lindquist's car was not in the driveway, and Hoagland said that while the investigation was beginning in Griswold, the police were notified that Matthew Lindquist's Saturn had been found engulfed in fire at an apartment complex in Glastonbury.

Later Monday, Detective Wayne Opdenbrouw from the fire and explosive unit offered the opinion that the fire had been "intentionally set via open flame with the introduction of an ignitable liquid" in the passenger compartment of the car.

Matthew Lindquist, 21, who had been struggling with an opioid addiction, was named as a person of interest in the fire until his body was located in a wooded area close to the family home in May 2018.

 Arrest warrant affidavits in the case describe the Correas reuniting in the fall of 2017 after Sergio Correa had spent 10 years in prison for violent crimes he committed as a teen. According to the warrants, Ruth Correa went along for the ride from Hartford to Griswold on Dec. 20, 2017. She said Sergio Correa had agreed to provide drugs to Matthew Lindquist in exchange for access to the Lindquist home to steal guns belonging to Lindquist's father, Kenneth.

Ruth Correa said that upon arriving in Griswold, she and "Gio" fatally stabbed Matthew Lindquist and disposed of his body in the woods near the family home. They went to the Lindquist home, where they tortured and killed Janet and Kenneth Lindquist, stole the guns and other items and set the home on fire. They allegedly stole Matthew Lindquist's car, which they set on fire in Glastonbury.

Regan, the state's attorney for the New London Judicial District, is prosecuting the case with Senior State's Attorney Stephen M. Carney and Rhett D'Amico.

Correa is represented by attorneys Joseph Lopez, Jessica Luu-Missios and Maureen Murphy from the Division of Public Defenders.

The defense attorneys cross-examined the detectives about their credentials and parts of their investigation, but are expected to ramp up their challenges to the state's case when Ruth Correa testifies on Tuesday. In the months leading up to the hearing, the defense notified the court that they would seek to introduce mental health and Department of Children and Families records pertaining to Ruth Correa. Judge Hadden has reviewed the records to determine what will be allowed into evidence.

Sergio Correa, who is being held in lieu of $3.5 million, is charged with murder with special circumstances, three counts of felony murder, first-degree robbery, first-degree arson, second-degree arson and home invasion.

He changed into a gray business suit for Monday's hearing but remained shackled at the legs as he sat at the defense table.

He leaned back in his chair and chatted with his lawyers throughout the day, turning around often to look for his mother and other family members who watched quietly from the gallery.

k.florin@theday.com 

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