Con­victed Bran­ford Killer Set Free

Ev­i­dence Is­sue At Trial Cited

Hartford Courant - - Front Page - By ED­MUND H. MA­HONY ema­hony@courant.com

A heroin ad­dict con­victed of a drug-fu­eled ar­son-mur­der in a Bran­ford beach com­mu­nity was freed from prison Thurs­day af­ter a judge ruled that law en­force­ment failed to dis­close ev­i­dence t hat could have helped his de­fense.

John Vailette, 48, was con­victed of pre­med­i­tated ar­son-mur­der in 2015 fol­low­ing a trial re­mark­able for its por­trayal of the squalid lives of mid­dle-aged heroin ad­dicts liv­ing in beach com­mu­ni­ties in and around Bran­ford.

Vailette was an ad­dict, as was his vic­tim, 39-year old Kath­leen Hardy, and a half­dozen or so friends who were dragged into the case as wit­nesses and sus­pects. The evi-

dence turned on the tor­tured re­la­tion­ships among a group con­sumed by find­ing drugs, do­ing drugs and steal­ing things to pay for drugs. Many were in and out of jail.

In her fi­nal days, Hardy had be­gun in­form­ing on her friends to the po­lice, while wait­ing to be ar­rested for steal­ing $50,000 from an el­derly woman she had been hired to care for.

Fol­low­ing Vailette’s con­vic­tion, the state and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tion team that brought the case in fed­eral court dis­closed that it dis­cov­ered, be­lat­edly, that it failed to pro­vide Vailette with nine let­ters au­thor­i­ties re­ceived from Chris Ol­son. Ol­son was in jail at the time fac­ing a drug charge and wrote to state pros­e­cu­tors that he had ev­i­dence that could con­vict Vailette.

Ol­son be­came the only wit­ness to tes­tify that he heard an ex­plicit con­fes­sion from Vailette. He said Vailette ad­mit­ted killing Hardy be­cause she had stolen some­thing from him. Ol­son in­sisted he was tes­ti­fy­ing for purely self­less rea­sons. He de­nied seek­ing any con­sid­er­a­tion from au­thor­i­ties in re­turn for his co­op­er­a­tion, such as le­niency in his drug case. He in­sisted he did not ask for le­niency, was not promised it and did not re­ceive it.

Ol­son’s jail­house let­ters re­vealed that he ha­rangued state pros­e­cu­tors for months, de­mand­ing le­niency in re­turn for his co­op­er­a­tion and in­sist­ing he would not tes­tify oth­er­wise. Vailette’s de­fense team, Hart­ford lawyers Craig Raabe and Kate Dion, said that Ol­son even­tu­ally was re­leased from jail with­out serv­ing an ad­di­tional sen­tence.

U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny or­dered a new trial for Vailette, telling the lawyers that Vailette might not have been con­victed had his de­fense team been able to use the let­ters to at­tack Ol­son’s ve­rac­ity.

“In short, the de­fense could have used the let­ters to show that Mr. Ol­son was not the self-sac­ri­fic­ing, con­sci­en­tious ci­ti­zen he wanted the jury to find him to be but was in­stead tes­ti­fy­ing falsely to gain a ben­e­fit for him­self,” Chatigny told the lawyers in the case.

Raabe said Thurs­day: “The gov­ern­ment has made a wise de­ci­sion to dis­miss this case. There’s no ques­tion that it was built on false tes­ti­mony by a key gov­ern­ment wit­ness.”

U.S. At­tor­ney John Durham agreed to a dis­missal, say­ing the pros­e­cu­tion could not retry the case be­cause of the death of an­other wit­ness, among other things. Durham said in court pa­pers that the pros­e­cu­tion was not aware the let­ters ex­isted when Vailette was tried.

Vailette has spent years in prison on at least two drug-re­lated fed­eral con­vic­tions. While held on the just-dis­missed case, he be­friended Robert “Bobby the Cook” Gen­tile, the geri­atric Hart­ford gang­ster who the FBI be­lieves has in­for­ma­tion about a half-bil­lion in art stolen decades ago from Bos­ton’s Is­abella Stew­art Gard­ner Mu­seum. Gen­tile be­came Vailette’s ad­vo­cate, try­ing to per­suade a re­porter that Vailette had been “framed.”

Vailette was ac­cused of killing Hardy on March 7, 2006. Some­one doused her rented house at 27 Lit­tle Bay Lane in Bran­ford’s Short Beach neigh­bor­hood with an ac­cel­er­ant and set it afire.

The case stymied po­lice, in part be­cause of the un­re­li­a­bil­ity of wit­nesses. Vailette and Steven Mar­tone were fi­nally charged seven years later in 2014, af­ter state and fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors took over. Vailette was con­victed in 2015 and sen­tenced to life in prison. Mar­tone, whose de­fense was pro­vided with ev­i­dence Vailette claims he did not re­ceive, was ac­quit­ted in a sep­a­rate trial.

The pros­e­cu­tion claimed at trial that Vailette killed Hardy be­cause she was plan­ning to pin the theft of $50,000 from the woman she cared for on Vailette’s un­cle, an­other drug user and an on-and-off Hardy boyfriend. But be­cause the case was pop­u­lated with ad­dicts with con­flict­ing sto­ries, the mo­tive of­ten looked muddy. Vailette’s de­fense ar­gued that there is a long list of peo­ple who had mo­tives for killing Hardy.

Hardy

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