Kara Laczynski was born on Christmas Eve,1962. She attended the University of Pennsylvania, majoring in English and Economics. Prior to being hired at the Journal Inquirer Newspaper in Manchester, CT, she was the Editor of the Nutley Sun in Nutley, New Jersey, a small town in Essex County.
Just prior to her murder, Kara was making the round of holiday visits. She had returned home from her parents in Union, New Jersey and had spent time at a friend’s home in Philadelphia.
Dave Barry was the lead investigative reporter at the Journal Inquirer when Kara Laczynski was murdered. He was Kara’s colleague for seven months and sat just ten feet away from her desk. In Dave’s Memoir, “Pull Me Up”, he wrote of her enthusiasm for the job including the way she would slam the phone down when politicians weren’t forthcoming. She loved the New York Mets and their shared interests included Bugs Bunny cartoons.
A short time after Kara’s murder, Barry was awaiting the possibility of another job in Providence, RI but was allowed access to her apartment by police and was grilled about what kind of person she was, was she dating someone at the newspaper and what kind of sex was she into? He didn’t know any of the answers, only that she was a nice person.
From former Managing Editor of the Journal Inquirer, Chris Powell:
I did not know Kara well. The most time I spent with her was when I interviewed her for the reporting job she took. She worked at the JI only a few months before she was killed. But I thought she had great promise and enthusiasm and was a good person. She was doing a good job for us, got along well with her colleagues at the paper, and would have passed her probation — and then suddenly, shockingly, and horribly she was gone. The three trials were stressful and the failure to get a conviction was heartbreaking, but due process of law can’t be denied and this wasn’t the only murder not to get a conviction.
The Crime, Witnesses and the Judicial Process
On December 24,1987 as Kara Laczynski was taking a bath she was interrupted by her killers. The means of entry to her home is unknown. Although it was never clear how the murderers gained access to her apartment, one source revealed that there was possible erosion near the foundation of the apartment building.
Subsequently, her property manager and a female Journal Inquirer colleague discovered her naked body. Kara was found on the floor, bound with leather straps cut from two of her purses. She had been strangled with the tie from her bathrobe. Sexual assault was not confirmed.
Evidence shows her first floor efficiency apartment on Evergreen Ave. was ransacked and items found missing were her college ring, her wallet and credit cards. A pair of scissors labelled with her name was located near her body.
Back in the 1980’s there were few key items of investigation available in the areas of forensics, victimology, DNA, blood analysis and pattern, and epigenetics. Detectives relied heavily on fingerprints, a murder weapon, and witness accounts. Newspaper reports were often filled with on-going drug dealing on Evergreen Ave. which is on the cusp of West Hartford, in contrast, a very affluent town.
There were three trials for the murder of Kara Laczynski.
The fact that there were three trials and two defendants, and three mistrials/acquittals before all charges of murder were dismissed, seems inconceivable for this violent crime.
Why could they not convict?
24-year-old Joseph L. Lomax was the primary suspect. Prior to the murder, he was a drugstore clerk with an extensive criminal record. At the time of Kara’s murder he was unemployed, living with a girlfriend, and on probation for two years concerning another burglary when he was arrested on December 24,1987; on what would have been her 25th birthday.
Before the second trial, a second suspect, 21-year-old Willie S. Askew, was charged with felony murder and conspiracy burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary in Kara’s case on April 17,1989, exactly eight years to the day of my Dad’s murder on the same street, Evergreen Ave.
The arrest of Askew came about as a result of two witnesses, Lizette Leon and Jason Franklin, who came forward and stated they had seen Askew and Lomax on Evergreen Avenue.
Initially, Ms. Leon was afraid but she had a change of heart when she saw Kara’s father, Edward Lazynski, on TV and put two and two together. She testified, grappling to describe some unique headgear (a baseball cap worn over a nylon scarflike configuration- called a “wave cap”). She also offered that the suspects appeared to be boosting each other up in an attempt to enter a window.
Mr. Franklin had seen Askew while they were gathered in a group across the street and appeared anxious to leave. During testimony, Franklin was very certain he could place Askew in the vicinity of the scene of the crime.
On February 28,1989, the first jury came back with no verdict after five days. They were deadlocked and the case deemed a mistrial.
The second trial for Kara’s murder took place a year later. On February 6, 1990, six jurors voted to acquit, while six voted to convict, another mistrial. Kara’s father was bitterly disappointed and was quoted as saying, “I wish they had deliberated one more hour.”
Lomax was in prison for three years prior to this trial until a church posted bail in 1991 and he was free.
The third trial also ended with a hung jury in March 1991, jurors voting 10 to 2 to acquit Lomax. Reportedly, the third jury couldn’t agree based on tainted evidence and conflicting witness accounts. The judge dismissed all charges against Lomax and Askew for Kara’s murder and other related charges.
The pair of scissors labeled with her name found next to Kara’s body went to the lab with a fingerprint that a forensic expert from the Hartford Police said belonged to Lomax, when in actuality, it belonged to him. This was clearly evidence contamination, combined with unreliable witnesses. The fate of the trial’s outcome was not justice being served.
What About the Victims?
No doubt Chief Bernie Sullivan of the Hartford Police, and State’s Attorney John Bailey did all in their power to try to bring justice. But, from the standpoint of the victim’s family, they were cheated not once, but three times! Witnesses lacked credibility, evidence lost or contaminated, the process of delay in the judicial system further eroding the proof.
The media, particularly in this case, was outraged. Considerable money and time was spent and still Kara’s family had nothing to show for their pain.
Another Miscarriage of Justice?
Joseph Moniz, a Hartford Criminal defense attorney, an African American man who dressed like he just stepped out of Gentleman’s Quarterly, was once a partner with the prestigious law firm, Day, Berry and Howard in Hartford. His roots stretched to the Cape Verde Islands on the Northwestern Coast of Africa.
Mr. Moniz was the defense attorney for Joseph Lomax in all three trials. He lived large, drove an expensive car, and resided in the north end of Hartford. At trial he was very skillful at pointing out perceived racial inequities and getting results.
He was accomplished at his craft, and in addition to the Lomax trials, was victorious in the high profile case in which an East Haven police officer was accused of “acting unreasonably” when he fatally shot unarmed Malik Jones who was fleeing police in 1997.
Moniz was a legal pioneer and achieved an acquittal based on racial profiling. The town of East Haven was ordered to pay the Jones family restitution. He was also the defense attorney for a similar case of profiling in Hartford with client Aquan Salmon.
The Jones case is significant because super lawyer, Joseph Moniz, was sentenced to six months in prison. Why? Moniz, an alcoholic, was dodging and weaving the law for an extended time and it finally caught up with him.
In relation to the Kara Laczynski trial, if the legal firm Day, Berry and Howard were fully aware of the extent of Muniz’s alcohol problems, why wasn’t he removed from the Lomax case in 1988? He could have been replaced; it was the Christmas holidays and the press coverage was beginning due to the fact that the trial was just three weeks away and scheduled for January 5, 1989.
It appears Moniz wouldn’t pay the piper for his dangerous behavior for many years. Wouldn’t this be a case for an impaired/ineffective counsel?
Would the outcome for the Laczynski family have been different with other counsel? We will never know.
The Killers… After the Crime
After charges were dismissed for murder after three mistrials, Joseph Lomax’s record was by no means lawful. He moved to Georgia in the early 90’s and continued his criminal ways, imprisoned at Dodge State Prison for four years. Other charges in his criminal history included drug possession, burglary tools, forgery and many “peeping tom” and criminal trespass convictions.
According to internet sources, he now lives in Savannah and is 55 years old. Willie S. Askew, now 59, reportedly lives in Brooklyn, NY.
My Dad, Donald W. Gore paid the price for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. This generous man, with his human imperfections, was cheated out of 40+ years of life on April 17,1981 on Evergreen Ave.
Kara Laczynski, was about to celebrate her Christmas Eve birthday and go to work the next day, when her life was taken on December 24,1987 on Evergreen Ave.
Was it just a coincidence, or was God giving us a signal, that someday, they would come together in print, and maybe even in heaven?
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1) Excerpts from “A Memoir, Pull Me Up, by Dan Barry, 2004;
Google Book Preview- ‘A Memoir- Pull Me Up” by Dave Barry –
3)The Hatford Courant, “Police Question 2nd Man in Reporter’s Death”, January 5, 1988; (Via the CT Historical Society);
4) The Hartford Courant, “Suspect is Placed Near Site of Slaying”,
August 9, 1989 (Via the CT Historical Society);