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State's attorney asks court to grant $25,000 reward to witness in Norwich cold case murder

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Peggy Wirth Lufkin doesn't have control over who receives the $25,000 reward for providing information that led to the conviction of the man who shot blindly through her niece Jaclyn Wirth's apartment door in Norwich while trying to collect a drug debt in the early morning hours of Dec. 14, 2011.

Wirth, 26, home with her two young boys, was struck multiple times and died a short time later.

New London Superior Court Judge Barbara Bailey Jongbloed, who presided over the 2017 murder trial of LaShawn R. "BI" Cecil, will be deciding who gets the reward. She heard testimony in the matter Wednesday.

If she could have a say in the matter, Lufkin, of Griswold, said by phone Wednesday, she would want the money to go to Jesse Kamienski, a chef and restaurant manager who came forward after hearing Cecil brag about the shooting while riding with him in a prisoner transport van from the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Institution to the Norwich courthouse.

Cecil, who had been targeting a man who didn't even live at Wirth's apartment, was convicted of murdering Wirth and sentenced in 2017 to 58 years in prison. Kamienski was one of several witnesses who testified at his trial.

Now that all of Cecil's appeals have been denied, Senior Assistant State's Attorney Stephen M. Carney, who prosecuted Cecil, filed a motion asking the court to consider distributing the $25,000 award to Kamienski. Carney said he contacted Kamienski on the belief that of all the witnesses, he would be the appropriate person to receive the award.  

Lufkin couldn't agree more.

"I can't tell you enough about how awesome this guy was about coming forward," she said. "He definitely has my vote, if I have anything to say about it. I think what he did was above and beyond, that he really did not have to do."

Dec. 14 will mark nine years since Wirth's death. Lufkin and her husband, Ron, are raising Wirth's sons, Sergio and Kymani, who are 16 and 11. Lufkin said the boys have been amazingly resilient and have "a good head on their shoulders."

Wirth's murder went unsolved for three years before police obtained enough evidence to charge Cecil.

In 2013, State's Attorney Michael L. Regan wrote to then Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and was granted authorization to offer a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of Wirth's killer. Wirth's photo, and a request for anyone with information to come forward, was printed on cold case playing cards distributed within the prison system.

The case against Cecil relied, in part, on jailhouse informants, including one man, Louis Burgos, who was hoping for consideration with charges related to an armed robbery of a jewelry store, and another, Andrew "Papo" Aviles, who was awaiting sentencing for the 2012 stabbing death of Javier Reyes.

Burgos and Aviles, also considered instrumental to securing the conviction, already received a reward for their cooperation, though it wasn't monetary. Carney said prosecutors in their criminal cases were made aware of their cooperation in the Cecil case. 

Kamienski, 36, has no violent offenses on his criminal record, and was incarcerated only briefly for failure to pay child support when he rode in the same prison transport van as Cecil.

Kamienski testified at Cecil's trial that Cecil, acting cocky and arrogant, said during the ride that he "didn't know there were any children inside the room," apparently talking about when he fired his gun into Wirth's apartment.

Kamienski testified that he didn't think much of it until he saw on the news that Cecil had been charged with Wirth's murder. He said he knew about the Wirth case from the cold case playing cards, and told his then-girlfriend what Cecil had said.

That's where Lufkin comes back into the story. Though she never met Kamienski before Cecil's trial, Lufkin said about two years into the three-year murder investigation, she started talking to Kamienski's girlfriend at the Lisbon Dunkin Donuts.

"She said, 'I have something to tell you,'" Lufkin said Wednesday. The woman relayed what Kamienski had heard in the prison van, and Lufkin asked if he would talk to the detectives. The girlfriend asked Kamienski, who agreed to talk to the detectives.

Since the trial, Lufkin and Kamienski have kept in touch and become Facebook friends, Lufkin said. 

"I told him he's got my heart forever," Lufkin said. "He amazed me, and I appreciated that he did come forward."

Lufkin was delighted to discover that Kamienski's father had coached Wirth's son Kymani in baseball.

At the trial, Cecil's attorney, Christopher Duby, asked Kamienski about the $25,000 reward, and Kamienski said he had never asked about the reward, would not know how to apply for it and wouldn't take it offered by the state.

Days later at the trial, the defense elicited testimony from Robert Bloom, a professor of law at Boston College and author of "Ratting: The Use and Abuse of Informants in the American Justice System."

Bloom told the jury that testimony from jailhouse informants is inherently unreliable, since they have an incentive to testify and are rarely prosecuted if they lie on the witness stand. Under cross-examination by the prosecutor, he admitted that a person who is locked up for child support, like Kamienski, would not have the same incentive to be an informant as someone who's facing greater charges.

Duby attended Wednesday's hearing to represent Cecil's interests but did not oppose the reward, according to Carney. Duby asked the court to be mindful, if granting the reward, of whether Kamienski owes money to anybody.

Kamienski, who appeared at the hearing in his chef's uniform, said he would accept the reward if it is granted. He told the court he lost work at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and again fell behind on child support. He said he has been making payments, but would be happy if the reward is used to pay his children what is owed to them.

 k.florin@theday.com

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