April Pennington murder trial

The murder trial of George Leniart, accused of the 1996 rape and murder of fifteen-year-old April Pennington, is underway. From what I’ve read of it, the testimony/evidence is quite sordid and horrible.

April sounds like a very unhappy, troubled girl, in spite of her family’s protestations to the contrary. She was making failing grades at the time of her disappearance and she was involved with drugs. Her stepfather said he knew she had cut her wrist and arm two times, but said it was just “attention seeking” and not an indication that April was suicidal or mentally ill. I think if her family knew about two cutting incidents, probably there were more. Right before she disappeared, she broke up with her boyfriend, and she was really unhappy about her family’s pending move to New Jersey.

It was established that on the night of her disappearance, April sneaked out of the house to meet a classmate her own age, Patrick Allain. Allain said they had done this before and had also had sex before, although he said they were friends and didn’t have a romantic relationship. That night Allain was accompanied by his friend George Leniart, a thirty-year-old man who was awaiting trial for rape. Allain returned home before the end of the night. April did not.

Allain later said he, Leniart and April drank beer, smoked pot and had consensual sex out in the woods, and then Leniart dropped him off home and left with April. His story went on to change many times. Now, testifying at Leniart’s trial, he says he and Leniart raped April that night and Leniart insinuated he wanted to kill her. Allain got nervous and went home, thought about calling the cops, and just went to bed instead. The next morning April’s mom called him to ask if he knew where she was. After school, he met up with Leniart and they went back to that same spot in the woods to drink and smoke pot again, and Leniart said he had killed April.

He said he and Leniart picked her up in Leniart’s pickup truck and they drove to a spot off Route 12 in Ledyard. Allain said he pretended to go along with Leniart because he was afraid Leniart would kill him or April. He said he walked back to the pickup truck and told April they both wanted to have sex with her.

“She said, ‘Only you,’ ” Allain testified. “She was crying. I said, ‘He’s going to rape you. We’re going to rape you, basically’.”

Allain said he whispered to April to “just do it,” and that she was quiet and calm. He said he had sex with her first while Leniart watched. Leniart then had sex with April while Allain sat in the driver’s seat of the truck.

“I didn’t really want to look at her,” Allain said. “I put my hand on her breast and just held her, just to let her know I was there.”

The three of them sat in the truck together afterwards, drinking beer until Allain said they had to get home because it was a school night. He said Leniart dropped him off at his house on Route 32 first. He said he ran home and thought of calling police, because he thought Leniart might hurt April. He did not call.

“I wasn’t sure what to say,” he said. “I wasn’t sure if he was going to hurt her.”

The next morning, he was awakened by the phone, Allain testified. April’s mother was on the line and she sounded worried.

“I was shocked,” he said. “I knew something bad had happened.”

Leniart called him later that day and said he had dragged April into the woods and “choked” her, Allain testified. Later that day, Leniart picked up Allain and they went to the same spot in Ledyard to drink and smoke pot, he said.

“He asked me if I ever heard of the movie, Eraser,” Allain testified. “He said, she’s been erased. He said he had put her in a lobster trap. He had dropped her in the mud.”

Both Leniart (who has been convicted of sex assault twice since April’s disappearance) and Allain (who is now doing ten years for sex assault also) sound like monsters, and Allain does not sound like a credible witness. I think it’s likely he was more involved in April’s murder than he says he was, but he is not the one on trial here. He hardly seems conscience-stricken about his actions and lack of action, either. After all, he hung out with a man whom he knew had murdered his friend the previous day. He says he raped April, a girl he admitted he liked, and he didn’t even try to summon help when he knew she was in danger of her life. Really, how “shocked” could he have been when he found out April was missing, given what he had witnessed the night before?

Leniart, for his part, seems to be claiming complete innocence. The defense phase of the trial still awaits us, but so far his lawyer is (a) trying to undermine Allain’s credibility by pointing out his criminal record and all his inconsistent statements and (b) trying to make the jury think April ran away from home. Someone who knew her claims he had a chance encounter with her in Virginia in 1999, but the cops discounted his story after they found out he was a brain-damaged amnesiac.

Poor April. I can only hope that at least partial justice can be served in her case, as I have no doubt that Leniart did kill her.

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