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Judge to Correa: You can have trial sooner with three-judge panel

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Sergio Correa could have his triple-murder trial sooner if he wants a panel of judges, rather than a jury of his peers, to decide whether he's guilty of viciously killing three members of the Lindquist family and burning down their Griswold home during a crime spree on Dec. 20, 2017.

New London Superior Court Judge Hunchu Kwak on Wednesday offered Correa the option of a bench trial, with a panel of three judges presiding, after denying Correa's latest motion for a speedy trial.

Kwak said he doesn't have the power or ability to proceed with a jury trial right now, due to the coronavirus pandemic, but wondered if Correa might be interested in going to trial with a three-judge panel.

Correa, who attended the hearing by video feed from the courthouse lockup while lawyers and members of the victims' family listened to the legal arguments in the courtroom, shook his head.

"I would rather have a jury trial," he said.

Jury trials have been on hold, by executive order of Gov. Ned Lamont, since March due to the pandemic. Correa, who was scheduled to go on trial in April, has appeared in court several times during the past six months as his attorneys argued that he should be given his trial or released on bond.

The state Judicial Branch is attempting to resume jury trials by the end of the year. A working group of judges is creating individualized plans for each courthouse to ensure the safety of trial participants. Two people from the Judicial Branch are expected to evaluate the Huntington Street courthouse next week, and the branch has sent summonses to potential jurors to appear at the courthouse in early November.

The logistics are especially difficult with a murder trial like Correa's, since 12 jurors and three or four alternate jurors will be needed for a lengthy trial involving dozens of witnesses and pieces of evidence. Jury deliberation rooms and even courthouse elevators are too small to accommodate that many people while maintaining the recommended social distance to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At the request of defense attorney Joseph Lopez, Judge Kwak scheduled two court dates in October for Correa. On Oct. 7, the attorney for Correa's former girlfriend, Tanisha Vicento, will be asked to tell the court whether Vicento, a key witness in the case, has a claim under the Fifth Amendment and whether she will evoke the right to remain silent at the trial.

At a probable cause hearing last year, Vicento had testified that hours after the crimes, Correa showed her two long guns stolen from the Lindquist home and told her that he and his sister Ruth Correa killed Janet and Kenneth Lindquist. The siblings also are accused of murdering the couple's son, Matthew Lindquist, who had made a deal with Sergio Correa to let Correa steal his father's guns in exchange for drugs.

Kwak scheduled an Oct. 14 hearing on defense motions to suppress, or keep from the jury, several items of evidence, including cellphone and internet records, but cautioned that the date is tentative. Kwak said he has to check with his Judicial Branch superiors to see if the court can hold the evidentiary hearings, which would involve several witnesses. 

Correa, 28, of Hartford remains incarcerated while awaiting trial, as does his 26-year-old sister Ruth Correa, who has agreed to testify against her brother in exchange for a 40-year prison sentence.

k.florin@theday.com

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