This article was originally published on goerie.com by Madeleine O’Neill on Jan 13, 2018
A man accused of killing his wife on Lake Erie’s waters is asking that his case be dismissed in Erie County court because, the defense claims, it’s not clear whether the homicide occurred in Pennsylvania.
He’s also asking for a change of venue due to heavy media coverage of the case.
The defense lawyer for 48-year-old Christopher S. Leclair argued in a court filing Thursday that the Erie County District Attorney’s Office has not established where Leclair’s wife, Karen Leclair, was killed.
“In this case the Commonwealth alleges that defendant killed the victim in the waters of Lake Erie and that the body of the victim washed up on the shores of Lake Erie in New York State,” the lawyer, Bruce Sandmeyer, wrote in the filing. “Defendant contends that the Commonwealth has not established that an offense has occurred in Pennsylvania.”
The motion asks that the case be dismissed because, it claims, the Erie County courts do not have jurisdiction over the case.
Sandmeyer also wrote that Christopher Leclair should be granted a change of venue if his case proceeds to trial in Erie County Court.
“The overwhelming pretrial publicity prevents the defendant from even the possibility of securing a fair and impartial jury from Erie County or Northwest Pennsylvania,” he wrote, citing examples of local, national and international media coverage.
“Counsel’s office has been saturated with calls from national news outlets,” Sandmeyer wrote. He included with the motion printouts of the coverage and of online comments on the articles that “show the defendant is viewed in a negative light by readers.”
Erie County President Judge John J. Trucilla on Thursday ordered the district attorney’s office to respond to the motions within 10 days. He is also likely to hold a hearing once the response is submitted.
Leclair, of Elk Creek Township, faces charges of homicide, aggravated assault, abuse of a corpse, tampering with evidence, possession of the instrument of a crime, carrying a firearm without a license and fictitious reports.
First Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Hirz and Assistant District Attorney Paul Sellers will prosecute the case and plan to seek a first-degree murder conviction against Leclair, according to information presented at his formal arraignment in November.
The Pennsylvania State Police charge that Leclair killed 51-year-old Karen Leclair while they were aboard their commercial fishing vessel, the Doris-M, on the afternoon of June 10. He returned to Lake Erie aboard the vessel alone the next day, investigators charge, and made a distress call to the U.S. Coast Guard reporting that Karen Leclair had just fallen off the boat.
Her body was found by a boater in Lake Erie about six miles off the coast of Dunkirk, New York, on the late morning of July 4.
A state police investigator testified at Leclair’s preliminary hearing on Aug. 31 that she was floating face down in the fetal position, with a blue dock line tied to her chest and to an anchor, a white braided line tied to her feet and to the anchor and a multicolored line tied around her ankles. Troopers searched the Doris-M on July 5 and found ropes, which had been cut, that matched those found on the body, Trooper Brandon Huffman testified.
An autopsy done in Erie County, New York, on July 5 determined that Karen Leclair died of a gunshot wound to the head, and her death was ruled a homicide.
Huffman also testified at the preliminary hearing that state police utilized the U.S. Border Patrol’s radar to determine that Leclair’s boat never traveled more than 4 miles from the Lake Erie shoreline off Presque Isle, and it stayed in that area, on June 10 and 11.
Leclair was charged June 13 in his wife’s death. He is in the Erie County Prison without bond.