*This is the report the Associated Press issued when Lawrence DeLisle was convicted on Aug. 1, 1990.
DETROIT (AP) A man convicted of murdering his four children by driving the family station wagon into a river was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday by a judge who suggested he might have preferred conviction on lesser charges.
Lawrence DeLisle was convicted by a jury of four counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, the last because his wife, Suzanne, also was in the car.
Wayne County Circuit Judge Robert Colombo Jr. said he had no choice but to impose five life terms, to be served concurrently. He said the evidence proved beyond doubt the act was premeditated, but suggested he would have preferred conviction of lesser charges.
”I don’t know if the defendant is guilty of the crimes of which he was convicted,” the judge said. The jury could have convicted DeLisle of second- degree murder, negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter.
Witnesses testified DeLisle had complained that his family was a financial burden and once, several years ago, left the house with a candle burning by a leaky gas dryer.
Frank Eaman, DeLisle’s court-appointed lawyer, said he would seek a new trial and, if that motion was rejected, would ask the Michigan Court of Appeals to overturn the convictions.
DeLisle was accused of deliberately driving his station wagon into the Detroit River on Aug 3, 1989. Supported by testimony from his wife, DeLisle claimed a leg cramp and a faulty accelerator left him unable to control the car as it raced down a dead-end street and through a barricade at the river’s edge.
Jurors deliberated three days before convicting DeLisle on June 21 of four counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.
DeLisle read a brief statement again proclaiming his innocence.
”A father’s job is to protect his children, and I failed,” he told Colombo. ”I panicked. I froze. That is my guilt, not murder.”
Suzanne DeLisle told Colombo she believed her husband was innocent. As the survivor of an attempted murder, she was allowed to address the judge under Michigan’s victims’-rights law.
”The police weren’t there. I was,” said Mrs. DeLisle, who along with her husband was rescued by passing boaters after their car plunged into the river. ”I know Larry is innocent. … We will be together again.”
Judge Colombo said he questioned his earlier rulings denying a change of venue in the highly publicized case. The jury ”may have been subconsciously influenced by what they already knew about the case through the media,” he said.
Deputies returned DeLisle to the Wayne County Jail, where he would stay until being transferred, probably Thursday, to the State Prison of Southern Michigan near Jackson, sheriff’s spokeswoman Nancy Mouradian said.
Mrs. DeLisle, confronted outside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice by a swarm of reporters and photographers, shouted ”Leave me alone, enough is enough,’ as two companions led her to a waiting car.
Eaman told reporters he would ask for a new trial within six weeks. He said he was surprised by the candor expressed by Colombo before the sentencing and was encouraged by the doubts raised by the judge.
”I don’t think this case is over by a long shot,” Eaman said.
Wayne County Prosecutor John O’Hair said he couldn’t fault Colombo for expressing anxiety over the case. But he also said that most key rulings on evidence and the jury-screening process were heavily weighted in DeLisle’s favor.
”From all reports I’ve had on the trial, I believe the record made in the case is virtually unimpeachable,” O’Hair said. ”I believe we have had as fair a trial as is possible in the criminal justice system.”
The children, Bryan, 8; Melissa, 4; Kathryn, 2; and Emily, 8 months, drowned as the family station wagon sank in 27 feet of water.
He had complained that his family was a financial burden and at once, several years ago, left the house with a candle burning by a leaky gas dryer.
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