Benjamin LaGuer, the convicted rapist who insisted he was wrongly convicted of sexually assaulting a Leominster neighbor in 1983 until DNA testing proved otherwise, died Wednesday, according to the state Department of Correction.
LaGuer earlier this year was released from prison under the state’s medical parole program when his doctors reported he was suffering from terminal liver cancer. But LaGuer violated the terms of his release and was returned to custody. He died Wednesday at the Lemuel Shattuck Hospital in Boston, according to a DOC spokesman.
LaGuer had previously been housed at the North Central Correctional Institution, a medium-minimum security prison in Gardner. He is believed to be 57 years old, officials said.
LaGuer’s unrelenting insistence on his innocence, his charismatic personality and eloquent letters written on a prison typewriter generated a number of high-profile supporters over the years, including former Governor Deval Patrick, the late Boston University president John Silber, and several journalists.
But Worcester County prosecutors challenged every legal effort LaGuer launched to overturn his conviction for a July 1983 attack on a 59-year-old woman — his neighbor — that lasted eight hours and left her apartment covered in blood. The woman, who identified LaGuer to police and on the witness stand during his trial, has since died.
Leominster Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella, who was a rookie officer with the city’s police department in 1983 and among the first officers to arrive at the scene of the attack, said the viciousness of the crime led him to question whether he wanted to remain in law enforcement.
“I don’t like to hear anybody pass away, regardless of the situation, but he was given many opportunities to enroll in programs in prison and to apologize to the victims, and he never did it,” said Mazzarella, who says he never doubted LaGuer’s guilt.
LaGuer’s claims of innocence were undermined when he admitted to mixing a forensic saliva sample with another inmate’s so he could not be matched to recovered biological evidence and by DNA testing that linked him to semen found at the scene. LaGuer had insisted the sample was planted by police.
“He tried every tactic there was,” Mazzarella said. “He was convincing for some people, and I’m sure you can find a million articles where people in the legal world were convinced he was innocent. But every tactic failed and backfired on him.”
“I still hold hope that maybe he left a letter somewhere, that he wrote something,” he added. “I don’t know why. I just hold out hope that when you’re facing death, it is your last chance to kind of make things as right as you possibly can.”