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Found guilty of child rape, he chugged a ‘cloudy’ liquid and died

Edward Leclair vomited and collapsed minutes after drinking a mysterious liquid at the end of his trial

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Edward Leclair heard “guilty” and started chugging from his water bottle.

Over several days last week in Denton, Tex., Leclair, 57, was tried on five counts of child sexual assault. At the end of that trial — as the judge read out guilty verdict after guilty verdict — Leclair kept gulping, downing most of the liquid in the bottle, his lawyer, Mike Howard, told NBC News.

“I looked over and noticed him drinking,” Howard said. “His hand was shaking. At the time, I thought it was shaking because of the verdict. Then he kept drinking and drinking.”

Jurors convicted Leclair on all five counts, court records show. His guilt decided, bailiffs led him to a holding cell outside the courtroom so lawyers in the case could schedule a hearing to determine his punishment. He faced up to 100 years in prison, and Howard acknowledged to NBC News that “a very stiff punishment” was possible, given the charges.

It never got that far. Minutes after Leclair had been removed, a bailiff announced in the courtroom that he was vomiting in the holding cell, Howard told NBC News. The Denton County Sheriff’s Office said he also collapsed. Paramedics took him to a nearby hospital, where he died that same day.

The Texas Rangers are now investigating what the sheriff’s office described as an “in-custody death.” Forensic pathologists with the Tarrant County Medical Examiner are performing an autopsy to determine his cause of death.

Howard did not immediately respond to an interview request from The Washington Post late Sunday.

Leclair had been charged with raping a 14-year-old girl in 2016, the Denton Record-Chronicle reported. In July of that year, Leclair responded to a personal ad the girl had posted on Craigslist, according to a search warrant obtained by the newspaper. The two met and drove to a hotel, where Leclair raped her, according to police. Leclair paid her $200, and the girl later sent him a nude photograph via email, the Record-Chronicle reported.

The girl later told Leclair that she was 14, but he continued to meet with her and sexually abuse her, according to the records obtained by the newspaper.

Frisco police said they filed charges against Leclair after the then-16-year-old girl’s mother called them in June 2018, according to the Record-Chronicle. Leclair was arrested the following month and, after posting a $30,000 bond, released until his trial, which began Aug. 8, court records show.

On Thursday, as the guilty verdicts started pouring in, Leclair took a “prolonged drink,” Howard told the Record-Chronicle. He’d been sipping from the water bottle throughout the trial, Howard said.

Jamie Beck, a prosecutor with the Denton County Criminal District Attorney’s Office, described the liquid in Leclair’s water bottle as “cloudy.”

“He had a bottle of water with him at the counsel table, and he chugged it,” Beck told WFAA. “It wasn't like he was just taking sips of water. He was literally throwing it back.”

After bailiffs took Leclair to the holding cell, Howard spoke with his client, the lawyer told NBC News. He described Leclair in that moment as “dejected and in shell shock — all the things you would expect” after being convicted of child sexual assault. Howard then returned to the courtroom to hammer out a sentencing date.

An investigator in the courtroom had noticed Leclair swigging as the verdicts were read, which he found odd, Beck told the Record-Chronicle. The investigator informed the bailiff and suggested he check on him. Following that advice, the bailiff found Leclair collapsed in the holding cell.

Beck also got a look at him, she told the newspaper.

“He was very much either dying or dead,” Beck said.

Jurors, having been dismissed before Leclair’s medical emergency on Thursday, returned Friday to news of his death, according to court records.

“It was highly emotional for everyone involved,” Howard told the Record-Chronicle. “We were shocked by this. It does carry a lot of emotion and even more so for the jurors.”

The judge and the lawyers in the case assured the jurors that what happened was not their fault.

“They didn’t choose to do this,” Howard said. “They were chosen.”

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