Court-related reform is on Senator Heather Somers’ list of priorities

For weeks late last year, State Senator Heather Somers sat in the gallery of a New London courtroom as the details of a brutal triple murder case unfolded in Griswold.

“I had attended trials before, but this was the first murder trial I had attended,” she said on Friday. “It was 100% an eye-opening learning experience, sitting there with the victims’ family and learning the nuances of how a courtroom works.”

Somers’ 18th District includes the town where three members of the Lindquist family – Kenneth, Janet and Matthew – were killed in 2017. Since the trial ended in December with the conviction of Hartford resident Sergio Correa, she has been working on several court-related reforms. initiatives that she hopes will eventually be raised in committee.

Somers said she doesn’t expect to submit any bills in the state Legislature’s ‘short’ 2022 session, Wednesday through May 4, but has compiled a list of priority issues as part of a wider program of discussions, including several that grew out of his attendance last year at Correa’s trial in New London Superior Court.

Better technology in courthouses

One of the most glaring early problems with the trial was with the sound. The court’s microphones, like in many others across the state, are not in place for amplification, but for a court reporter to hear and transcribe testimony during a proceeding.

“It was a great moment for the families attending the trial, a moment they had been waiting for four years and it was very difficult at the beginning to hear from the witnesses,” the Republican senator said. “The judge had to constantly ask the witnesses to speak.”

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The audio problem has been solved somewhat with the addition of different microphones, although many trial participants still spent time with their necks craned forward trying to catch the back and forth between lawyers and witnesses.

Somers said any introduction of new equipment into a courtroom must be balanced with user needs.

“For example, there was a time during the trial where an older overhead projector was used to display evidence on a screen,” she said. “These images were very difficult to see (in the gallery), but I was told that this was the technology the prosecutors were comfortable with and that they did not want to try anything new during a trial. also important.”

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Somers said a $500,000 line item was included in last year’s state budget to upgrade audio technology in courthouses.

“I want to make sure those kinds of upgrades are available to the courts if they want them so they’re as well equipped as possible,” she said.

Caring for families of victims

Somers said in many ways the Huntington Street courthouse — particularly its internal cadre of victim advocacy staff — is a model for how other facilities should operate.

“I was so impressed with the depth of care that these victim advocates showed and how they acted as a conduit for victims in explaining what was happening,” she said. “This court had a separate area in another part of the building where families and friends of victims could congregate without having to wait in their cars, which not all courthouses have.”

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Somers said she would also like to see a change in jury verdict notifications. Jury members in the Correa case deliberated for two full days in December before reaching a verdict. Meanwhile, the participants remained close to the courthouse after being told they would only have about 20 minutes from the time the jury alerted the judge that they had made a decision to reconvene. the tribunal.

“Right now it’s up to a judge to decide how long people have to come back to court to hear a verdict – I saw one person running around fearing they’d miss the verdict in New London,” Somers said. “There must be a minimum time, like 45 minutes or an hour put in place so that family members of victims and defendants – many of whom have to take time off from work to attend – do not have to spend all their time waiting in court for a verdict.

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Somers said she was also considering a blanket allowance for “comfort” dogs to be allowed in all state courts and in some cases in a courtroom for young victims, which she said. says other states already allow.

Bigger criminal justice issues at stake

Eric Lindquist, whose mother, father and brother were massacred by Correa, said while issues with sound and other technology upset him during the trial, he is focused on justice issues broader criminal law that he hopes will be resolved by legislators.

“Right now, when you’re sitting in court, things like not being able to hear or see something might seem like a big deal, but that pales in comparison to broader criminal justice policies, like how (Correa ) could he even have been on the streets in the first place? he said. “My plan is to invest time next year in having conversations with interested lawmakers in hopes of advancing these issues during the session of 2023.”

Lindquist said he encourages any lawmaker seeking to institute criminal justice reform to witness criminal proceedings from start to finish.

“Not just spending a day or two,” he said. “It takes an investment of time.”

John Penney can be reached at jpenney@norwichbulletin.com or (860) 857-6965

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