This article was originally published on GoErie.com by Madeleine O’Neill on November 11, 2018
The 25-year marriage of Karen Leclair and her husband, Christopher S. Leclair, was a pairing of a selfless life and a selfish one, Erie County President Judge John J. Trucilla said Tuesday.
The selfless life of Karen Leclair ended in the depths of Lake Erie in June 2017.
The selfish life, Trucilla ruled, is now destined to end in prison.
Trucilla sentenced Christopher Leclair, 49, to serve the mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole plus three years and nine months to 17 years for first-degree murder and other charges in Karen Leclair’s death.
Before issuing the sentence, Trucilla contrasted 51-year-old Karen Leclair, the beloved family member and coworker, with her husband. Karen Leclair worked to repair their marriage even while Christopher Leclair cheated on her and plotted to kill her, Trucilla said.
A jury found in October that Leclair carried out the plan on June 10, 2017, when he shot Karen Leclair on the couple’s commercial fishing vessel, bound and weighted her body with rope and an anchor and threw her body into Lake Erie.
“There was almost a recognizable gasp in this community when this crime was committed,” Trucilla said. “The depravity and depths that you went to calculate this murder are unlike any this court has ever seen.”
Leclair declined to speak on his own behalf at the hearing. His court-appointed lawyer, Bruce Sandmeyer, told Trucilla that Leclair maintains his innocence and continues to argue, as he did at trial, that Karen Leclair shot herself on the boat because she could not stand her husband’s ongoing affair.
Christopher Leclair was all but guaranteed to receive life in prison when jurors convicted him of first-degree murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, and other charges, including abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence and false reports, at his weeklong trial in October. The jury deliberated for less than two hours before delivering the verdict.
Trucilla added time to the life sentence for the additional charges and ordered Leclair to pay $705,974 in restitution to the U.S. Coast Guard for the massive search that was conducted when Leclair falsely reported his wife had fallen overboard and gone missing on Lake Erie a day after her death.
Prosecutors charged at Leclair’s trial that he put into action a long-held plan to kill his wife on Lake Erie as his girlfriend pushed him to get a divorce and commit to the new relationship.
“Rather than just leave her, this man decides to take her out to his boat and shoot her,” First Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz said Tuesday. “It’s chilling what he did that day.”
Christopher Leclair claimed at his trial that his wife was so distraught over his affair that she shot herself aboard their fishing vessel, the Doris-M. Leclair did not testify at the trial, but in letters written from the Erie County Prison, he claimed that he dumped Karen Leclair’s body in Lake Erie because he felt guilty and did not want anyone to know what happened.
A boater ultimately found Karen Leclair’s body about 6 miles off the coast of Dunkirk, New York, on July 4, 2017.
The prosecution presented surveillance video footage that showed Leclair boarding the Doris-M with his wife at Erie’s East Basin on June 10, 2017, and returning alone later that day. He returned to the vessel by himself on June 11, 2017, shortly before he made the distress call to the Coast Guard.