The last sentence is my favorite.Jurors in New London Superior Court who have been immersed in the Goth subculture for the past three weeks began deliberating late Thursday in the strangulation case of Kristopher Prudhomme.
Prudhomme, 30, now of Houston, Texas, is accused of strangling his former roommate, Michael Lovering, in their Norwich apartment with the string from a corset. The state alleges Prudhomme, angry because Lovering had slept with Prudhomme's girlfriend, left him lying on his back in his bedroom with his legs bent at the knees and his feet tucked under his buttocks.
By the time Prudhomme called 911 some 14 hours later, circulation to Lovering's legs had been cut off for so long that a surgeon had to amputate both limbs. Lovering also had red marks on his neck.
Jurors learned the two men had met in Louisiana while both worked as DJs and promoters of electronic music. Witnesses described their practice of wearing pale face makeup and eyeliner, dressing in dark clothing and serving as DJs at clubs where trancelike music was played. Testimony also revealed the men practiced bondage and submission with multiple sexual partners. A leather corset and a whipping device called a flogger were seized as evidence and displayed in the courtroom.
The jurors heard testimony that Prudhomme is a high-functioning autistic person and that the woman at the center of the dispute, Lauren Muskus, suffers from severe anxiety that renders her speechless at times. Though Lovering testified that Muskus was in the bedroom with him on Oct. 22, 2016, the night of the incident, and saw who came up behind him and put something around his neck, Muskus said she was in Prudhomme's room the entire night and saw nothing.
In his closing argument, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Stephen M. Carney summarized key points made by the 17 witnesses he had presented beginning on Nov. 13. He noted that Prudhomme was suggesting even in the 911 call that Lovering had attempted suicide by hanging. No ligature was found at the scene but Prudhomme suggested that Lovering used a corset string on himself. Police learned that Muskus had asked for one of Lovering's corsets to remember him by, and they seized the corset and flogging device at Muskus' home in Monroe.
Carney told the jury nobody is looking for a decision based on sympathy for Lovering, who had arrived in the courtroom in a wheelchair for his testimony and admitted he had a drinking and drug problem in the past. Carney also asked the jury not to bring judgment based on culture, lifestyle or sexual practices.
He pointed to a text in which Prudhomme told Muskus after Lovering was hospitalized that he regretted saving a "rapist's" life and said it contradicted the public Facebook posts in which Prudhomme appeared to be concerned about Lovering.
"He talks about saving the defendant's life," Carney said. "Saving his life? He called 911 after a very, very long time. Privately he's calling Michael Lovering a rapist. Publicly, he's posting and saying come visit Michael."
Defense attorney Damon A.R. Kirschbaum attacked the police investigation in his argument, noting that the responding police were not suspicious and the criminal investigation began 10 days after the incident, when Lovering's mother went to police. Kirschbaum said the lead detective, Kyle Besse, had tunnel vision and rushed to judgment against Prudhomme because Prudhomme, who is autistic, seemed odd.
"My client is being prosecuted because he's an oddball and misfit," Kirschbaum said.
Kirschbaum asserted that Lovering had not been strangled at all and posed several alternatives for the red marks on his neck, including self-flagellation, autoerotic choking and a suicide "gesture" in which Lovering pretended he was suicidal for attention.
Among the unanswered questions the six-member jury could grapple with during deliberations is who sent a text from Lovering's phone to Muskus at 3:30 a.m. saying, "Have fun with my death." The state contends that Prudhomme sent it to make it appear that Lovering was suicidal. The defense argues that because of his autism, Prudhomme is incapable of that kind of deceit.
A jury has found a former Norwich man guilty of assaulting his roommate two years ago, leading him to lose both legs, but found him not guilty of the most serious charge he faced.
Kristopher Prudhomme, 37, who now lives in Houston, has been on trial for the past four weeks in New London Superior Court. A jury of five men and one woman issued its verdict Friday afternoon after starting deliberations a day earlier.
Jurors found Prudhomme guilty of first-degree assault, cruelty to persons and tampering with evidence. They found him not guilty of another count of first-degree assault and of first-degree strangulation. Because of the verdicts on the other charges, no verdict was reached on a second-degree assault charge.
Prudhomme now faces a maximum of 30 years in prison; 20 years on the first-degree assault conviction, and five years on each of the other two. Just before the trial began, Prudhomme rejected a plea deal offer of seven years in prison followed by five years’ probation.
Prudhomme showed no reaction to any of the verdicts. Both his parents, who were sitting behind him in the courtroom, softly urged him to “be strong, be strong.”
Prudhomme had been accused of choking his roommate, Michael Lovering, in the early morning hours of Oct. 22, 2016, using a lace from Lovering’s corset. Both Prudhomme and Lovering practiced the Goth lifestyle.
Lovering left his home in Louisiana to live with Prudhomme, who worked at Electric Boat, at Prudhomme’s apartment on East Main Street in Norwich. Lovering testified Prudhomme was angry at him when he confessed to Prudhomme that he had sex with Prudhomme’s girlfriend, Lauren Muskus.
Lovering testified he was kneeling on his bedroom floor when he felt a pressure around his throat, everything went black and he remembered nothing else until he awoke in Hartford Hospital two weeks later having had both legs amputated.
Prudhomme didn’t call for an ambulance for Lovering until after 5 p.m. that day, according to trial testimony, meaning Lovering apparently spent about 14 hours unconscious or barely conscious, with his legs sharply bent under him. The loss of circulation required both to be amputated at the knees to save his life.
The defense claimed at the trial that Lovering drank heavily that morning and may have hurt himself, either through a suicide attempt or by engaging in autoerotic asphyxiation.
The first-degree assault count Prudhomme was found not guilty of required him to have an “intent to cause serious physical injury to another person” and, in fact, to have caused it. The section of the first-degree assault law he was found guilty of violating was to have “recklessly engaged in conduct which creates a risk of death to another person” and did, in fact, cause serious phyical injury.
The “intent to cause serious physical injury” section of the law carries a mandatory minimum five-year prison sentence, while Prudhomme could be sentenced to as little as one year under the section he was convicted of.
Judge Barbara Jongbloed, who presided over the trial, is scheduled to sentence Prudhomme on Feb. 26.
After the verdicts were announced, Assistant State’s Attorney Stephen Carney, who prosecuted Prudhomme, urged Jongbloed to increase Prudhomme’s $250,000 bail to at least $750,000. Damon Kirschbaum, Prudhomme’s attorney, told the judge that $500,000 would be more appropriate.
“We’re obviously in a very different situation now,” Jongbloed said. She set Prudhomme’s new bail at $600,000, and court marshals then led him out of the courtroom to a holding cell to be transported to prison.