Christopher S. Leclair must pay restitution to the U.S. Coast Guard for the massive search of Lake Erie that was conducted after he called in a false report that his wife had fallen overboard in June 2017, a judge has ruled.
The amount that he owes has yet to be determined.
Erie County President Judge John J. Trucilla has set a hearing for Tuesday to calculate the full amount of restitution Leclair, 49, must pay to the Coast Guard.
Leclair is serving life in prison without parole for first-degree murder in the death of his wife, 51-year-old Karen Leclair. He was originally ordered to pay $705,974 in restitution to the Coast Guard for the cost of a search conducted after he made a false distress call on June 11, 2017, claiming his wife had fallen overboard into Lake Erie.
A jury found that Christopher Leclair had fatally shot his wife the day before, while the couple was out on their commercial fishing vessel, the Doris-M, and then tied up her body and dropped it into Lake Erie. Karen Leclair's body was ultimately found by a boater about 6 miles off the coast of Dunkirk, New York on July 4, 2017.
Christopher Leclair's court-appointed lawyer, Bruce Sandmeyer, argued at a hearing in January that the Coast Guard did not qualify as a victim that could receive restitution under state law. He also argued that personnel costs should not be included in the restitution because members of the military are paid a flat salary.
In a 30-page opinion, Trucilla found that the Coast Guard is eligible to receive restitution, but that Leclair can only be required to pay for expenses that were a direct result of his false report. Trucilla asked for additional information about whether some costs listed by the Coast Guard, such as personnel and equipment costs, would have been paid anyway regardless of whether a search was conducted.
"This Court intends to award restitution in some amount to the USCG, however, the expenses which shall be awarded in restitution must be 'a direct result of the defendant's crime,'" Trucilla wrote.
He asked the Erie County District Attorney's Office to provide information at Tuesday's hearing to show which expenses were incurred as a direct result of Leclair's false report.
According to a previous estimate provided by the Coast Guard, the cost of the search included expenses associated with two C-130 planes -- one from Air Station Elizabeth City, in North Carolina, and the other from the Canadian armed forces -- two Coast Guard helicopters from Air Station Detroit, two boats from the Erie Station and manpower costs for people involved in the search.
This article is written by Madeleine O'Neill from Erie Times-News, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.