1st-degree murder conviction sought in Lake Erie murder case
Erie County prosecutors will seek a first-degree murder conviction against an Elk Creek Township man accused of killing his wife on their commercial fishing vessel and dumping her body into Lake Erie in June.
A trial date was not set in court Tuesday morning during 48-year-old Christopher Leclair's formal arraignment before Erie County President Judge John J. Trucilla on charges of criminal homicide, aggravated assault, abuses of a corpse, tampering with evidence, possessing an instrument of crime, carrying a firearm without a license and false reports in the death of 51-year-old Karen Leclair.
“At this time it's a first-degree murder case,” District Attorney Jack Daneri said in court.
Bruce Sandmeyer, who is representing Leclair, said he had discussions with prosecutors about possibly scheduling the trial for April.
Leclair, who remains in the Erie County Prison without bond, told Trucilla that he understood the proceedings Tuesday morning.
The Pennsylvania State Police charge that Leclair killed his wife while they were aboard their commercial fishing vessel, the Doris-M, on the afternoon of June 10 before he returned to Lake Erie aboard the vessel alone on the afternoon of June 11 and made a distress call to the Coast Guard reporting that his wife had just fallen off the boat. An extensive search of the lake was launched before it was suspended on the late afternoon of June 12 and Karen Leclair was declared deceased.
State police investigators said a review of surveillance video from Erie-Western Pennsylvania Port Authority cameras stationed near where Leclair docked the Doris-M showed the couple heading out onto the lake on June 10 before Leclair returned to the dock alone, then departed onto the lake again by himself on June 11.
A boater found Karen Leclair's body in the lake about 6 miles off the coast of Dunkirk, N.Y., on the late morning of July 4. A state police investigator testified at Leclair's preliminary hearing on Aug. 31 that she was floating facedown 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 anchor. 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, N.Y., on July 5 determined that Karen Leclair died of a gunshot wound to the head, and her death was ruled a homicide.
State police also charged Leclair's father, 75-year-old Florida resident Ernest C. Leclair, with tampering with evidence on allegations he moved a gun hidden in the Leclairs' residence on Route 6N at the request of Leclair. Ernest Leclair, who is free on bail, is scheduled for trial in March, according to court documents.