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After Fatal Courtroom Swig, Some Legal Murkiness

Edward LeClair died before being sentenced for child sexual assault in Texas
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 15, 2022 9:56 AM CDT
After Fatal Courtroom Swig, Some Legal Murkiness
Stock image. His water bottle apparently had something other than water in it.   (Getty/imagehit)

(Newser) – A bizarre—and lethal—development in a child sexual assault case in Texas has led to legal uncertainty about the next steps. Last week, 57-year-old Edward Leclair started chugging from his water bottle immediately upon hearing his guilty verdict in a courtroom in Denton, Texas. He began vomiting after being led to his holding cell and was dead within hours. An autopsy is pending, and the Texas Rangers are investigating to figure out what exactly was in LeClair's plastic water bottle, per the Washington Post. The legal uncertainty has arisen because while Leclair had been convicted, he had not yet been sentenced.

The local Denton-Record nicely lays out the problem: If a defendant escapes between conviction and sentencing, it's considered "volunteering absence," and sentencing would typically proceed. "So the question is: If Leclair killed himself, does his action qualify as a 'volunteering absence' since, in a sense, he escaped justice—unless you believe in Dante’s version of the afterlife," writes Christian McPhate. The judge could decide to sentence Leclair despite his death—or dismiss the case.

“This is something that obviously doesn’t happen very often,” says defense attorney Mike Howard. “The judge in her 30 years and probably between us (prosecution, too) 100-plus years, [we] have never come across anything like this." Howard's guess is that the judge will have to declare a mistrial, which he acknowledges "does prevent ultimate justice." Leclair was convicted of having sex with a 14-year-old girl he met on Craigslist, and continuing to meet her for sex even after learning her age. He faced up to 100 years in prison, per NBC News, and likely would have spent the rest of his life behind bars. Leclair had been free on bond during his trial and thus would have been able to doctor his water. (Read more Texas stories.)

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