State Supreme Court overturns Norwich murder conviction

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The state Supreme Court has overturned the conviction of Jean Jacques, who is serving a 60-year sentence for the June 15, 2015, murder of Casey Chadwick in Norwich, based on what the court determined was an illegal, warrantless search by police of a Norwich apartment Jacques had rented five days before he was arrested.

In the decision released Wednesday, the court ordered a new trial for Jacques, now 44, who still stands accused of murder and will not be released from prison.

New London State's Attorney Michael L. Regan said the case would return to the court docket, and if it can't be resolved during pretrial negotiations, would be retried.

Jacques had been tried in New London Superior Court in 2016 and found guilty by a 12-member jury. During the trial, the prosecution was allowed to present evidence indicating detectives searched Jacques' apartment at 5 Crossway St. on July 15, 2015, based on a tip from Jacques' prison cellmate, and found the victim's cellphone and crack cocaine hidden in a hole in the bathroom wall. The investigators entered the apartment with permission from the landlord, and once they saw the items in the wall, they left and obtained a search and seizure warrant, according to testimony.

The Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion written by Justice Raheem L. Mullins, cites Connecticut's landlord-tenant law and indicates that Jacques still had the expectation of privacy at his apartment even though he was incarcerated and had not paid the rent that was due five days before the search. The opinion notes the landlord had not asked Jacques to vacate the apartment, though he had removed Jacques' belongings, and that state law provides a nine-day grace period before a landlord may terminate a month-to-month lease for nonpayment of rent.

"Neither the fact that the defendant was overdue on his rent nor the fact that he was incarcerated during his tenancy is sufficient, without more, for the defendant to have lost his subjective expectation of privacy in his apartment," the court wrote. "Indeed, the failure to pay rent, on its own, does not result in the loss of one's expectation of privacy."

Jacques' attorney, Sebastian DeSantis, had tried to suppress the results of the search prior to trial and Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed had denied the motion, saying Jacques did not have a right to privacy because he had failed to "maintain the apartment as his own" because the lease had expired, he had not made any further rent payments and he made no arrangements to secure his belongings in the apartment.

DeSantis could not immediately be reached to comment Wednesday afternoon, nor could Attorney S. Max Simmons, who had represented Jacques in the appeal.

A concurring opinion written by Justice Maria Araujo Kahn, and joined by Chief Justice Richard A. Robinson, notes that the evidence against Jacques was overwhelming even without the drugs and cellphone. The concurrence also discusses whether Jacques' status as a parolee is significant, noting there wasn't enough information in the record to make that determination.

"Most significantly, the state presented evidence that the defendant's blood was on the victim's living room floor and on her kitchen wall," the concurrence said.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney David J. Smith, who had prosecuted Jacques and argued the appeal, said he had not yet read the opinion. "I'm sure the court looked at the evidence and the law carefully," he said.

Following the trial in 2016, Judge Jongbloed sentenced Jacques to the maximum penalty of 60 years in prison, calling the crime a "horrendous, violent attack" on a woman he considered his friend.

The evidence showed he inflicted stab wounds that penetrated her carotid artery and jugular vein and pierced her brain stem, before he put her body into a closet in her Spaulding Street apartment.

The victim's mother, Wendy Hartling of Gales Ferry, was shocked Wednesday to hear of the state Supreme Court's decision, noting the landlord had let the police into the apartment and Jacques was incarcerated at the time. She said she would be paying attention to the retrial.

"This really sucks," Hartling said. "I just started grief counseling. I'm always sad. I'm sad and in pain and I miss her."

It was the second time Jacques, a Haitian national, had been convicted in a murder case. The case had sparked outrage because he was not deported after serving a lengthy sentence in the first case.

Jacques had been convicted of attempted murder in 1996 and served 16 years in prison. Released on parole in 2012, he was detained by ICE, who attempted to deport him three times. Haiti refused to take him, claiming Jacques did not have the required identification documents. He was detained a total of 205 days and released back into the community.

The victim's mother, incensed by the deportation failure, had worked with New London Attorney Chester Fairlie to change the law to enable convicted criminals to be held in custody until their deportation can be completed.  Government immunity prevented Chadwick's family from bringing a claim against immigration officials, and efforts to change the policy stalled.

Fairlie said the state has to hold Jacques, who remains under a deportation order, on a high bond, because ICE can't provide the solution.

"To protect public safety, they have to hold him on a high bond and retry him," Fairlie said.

k.florin@theday.com 

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