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Man who murdered wife on fishing boat fights against paying $700,000 restitution to Coast Guard

A jury found that Christopher Leclair shot his wife in the head while the couple was out on their fishing vessel, the Doris-M, on June 10, 2017.

By MADELEINE O'NEILL | Erie Times-News, Pa. | Published: January 7, 2019

ERIE, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Christopher S. Leclair is serving life in prison for murdering his wife on Lake Erie.

He's fighting a different aspect of his sentence in court: the $700,000 restitution he was ordered to pay to the U.S. Coast Guard for the massive search that began when he falsely reported his wife had fallen overboard off his fishing vessel.

In a court filing, Leclair's lawyer asked Erie County President Judge John J. Trucilla to cancel the restitution because the Coast Guard's claim was "an estimate and not the actual cost of the search and rescue operation."

Trucilla ordered Leclair to pay a total of $705,974 for the 30-hour search for 51-year-old Karen Leclair. A jury found that Christopher Leclair shot his wife in the head while the couple was out on their fishing vessel, the Doris-M, on June 10, 2017.

He went back out on Lake Erie the next day and reported in a distress call that his wife had fallen overboard and gone missing, according to trial testimony.

According to a previous estimate provided by the Coast Guard, the amount included two 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.

A boater spotted Karen Leclair's body about 6 miles off the coast of Dunkirk, New York, on July 4, 2017. Her body had been tied with rope and weighted down with an anchor.

Leclair's lawyer, Bruce Sandmeyer, argued in his motion that the personnel costs should not be included in the restitution because, he wrote, members of the military are paid a flat salary regardless of the work they perform.

Leclair currently is held at the State Correctional Institution at Camp Hill, near Harrisburg, state records show. He is serving life in prison plus 17 years for the murder of Karen Leclair.

Trucilla is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on the request to cancel the restitution order, court records show.

The Erie County District Attorney's Office argued in its response that Leclair should be required to pay for the search because it was the result of his false report.

"The defendant is not permitted to monopolize the combined manpower of the United States Coast Guard across multiple stations over numerous states in an effort to hide the murder of his wife through a false report of her falling overboard," Assistant District Attorney Paul Sellers wrote in a court filing.

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©2019 the Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.)
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