Sterling man earns national award
by Janetta Petkus
In 1999, when Eddie Morales shot and killed off-duty police officer John A. DiNapoli in Holyoke, Attorney Peter L. Ettenberg, a highly sought after criminal defense attorney, asked Lajoie to join the defense team. Ettenberg’s assessment of Lajoie is complimentary: “John is a really good guy to work with. He’s a hard worker with a great sense of humor, good insight and instincts, and he provides very important feedback. I’d call him doggedly determined.” Ettenberg says Lajoie was instrumental in a couple of cases that received little publicity – one involving two deaths and a motor vehicle, the other a shooting in a drug deal gone bad. “In one case he found a witness that put great doubt in the Commonwealth’s case,” says Ettenberg. “In the other, he and another criminologist cast serious doubt about the Commonwealth’s theory, so the charges were dismissed.” “A case requires good lawyering, but you can’t lawyer without facts,” Lajoie says. “My job is to determine the true facts and provide them to my client.” Getting the facts in a police shooting sited in a hostile environment, as in the Morales case, was an awesome challenge. But true to his mission to keep upgrading his profession, which he maintains has been maligned by “hyped” fiction writers, TV and movies, Lajoie says, “I interview, I don’t interrogate. I talk and don’t yell. Above all, I listen and don’t lie. You’re hurting your client if you don’t stay within the letter of the law.” In addition to 15 hours spent interviewing Morales, Lajoie says he questioned 93 witnesses. The odds were insurmountable. “There was an unbelievable amount of forensic evidence and mountains of discovery materials,” he says. “It was very difficult to defend that case, but the delivery of due process is really paramount, whether you’re guilty or innocent.” Morales was eventually found guilty, but that case, among others, garnered the admiration of Lajoie’s colleagues all over the country. In four recent homicide cases, Lajoie says he’s helped attain two dismissals, one not guilty and a directed verdict.
Lajoie is well known as an officer of the National Association of Legal Investigators and one of only 125 people certified worldwide by that prestigious organization. Once passed, CLI’s stringent written and oral examinations bestow a very sought-after credential. “The failure rate for that CLI test is great,” Lajoie says. “It takes all day and you have to keep taking courses.” He’s twice been featured on the cover of PI Magazine. He lectures on topics like self-defense investigation and autopsy reports. He won a National Editorial Publisher Award for his article “Homicide Se Defendo – The Investigation of Homicide in Self-Defense,” authored a book about the P.I. industry, and maintains memberships in various state, national and international associations. “If you have to work, you should have fun,” he says. Lajoie particularly enjoys being a coordinator of very popular “super conferences” sponsored by multiple associations, which bring hundreds of private investigators together to network and continue their professional development. He’s been NALI’s regional director for the Northeast three times and its 2001 super conference was a great success. A special delight has been co-chairing the committee for the Julius “Buddy” Bombet Lifetime Achievement Award, the most prestigious award of private investigators nationwide.
A tear jerker
“I take family life seriously,” says Lajoie, the father of 7-year old Jackie, a first grader at Houghton Elementary, 13-year-old Jessica, an 8th grader at Chocksett Middle School, and 16-year-old Jason, a sophomore at St. John’s. He adores his daughters and has found a unique way to spend time with his son. “I’m a lead singer in a band with three kids and three adults, called ‘The Generation Gap,'” Lajoie explains. “I love it. Jason plays a mean sax and is great on two other horns.” The group has performed at various community locales. John and Jason recently traveled to the Library of Congress to eye documents related to the September 11, 2001 attacks. “[The event] changed the way government does business,” he says. “There’s a move to privatize public records, which I don’t think is a great move right now. We need to have the ability to investigate.” He and others in his profession are lobbying, to keep records, like motor vehicle information, open. “I’m not a political person,” says Lajoie. “But I look at my job as a protector of the Bill of Rights. The accused have a right to investigate those who accuse them.”
Even if you change your name more than 10 times, alter your social security number repeatedly and travel incessantly for 30 years, he’ll still find you. “You need the diligence to follow up the smallest lead,” says Certified Legal Investigator John M. Lajoie of Sterling, considered to be among the best in the business. On October 25, in Baltimore, Lajoie will receive the 2002 Investigator of the Year award from the National Association of Investigative Specialists for professional competence in professional private investigation. Lajoie Investigations, Inc. is a full service agency with offices in West Boylston, Springfield and Providence. Locally, at the 287 West Boylston St. location, Lajoie retains a primary staff of five and a secondary staff of up to 20 people. John’s wife, Susan, the firm’s manager, is an experienced investigator in her own right. In addition to case file management and administration, she’s highly skilled at surveillance, background and asset checks, locating witnesses and database retrieval. John is an expert in defense homicide investigation and a specialist in insurance coverage and liability investigations. He says he relies on solid research skills, ethics, valid sources, intuition and persistence to gather reliable information clients need in cases that could potentially be litigated. “We don’t have capital punishment in this state, but in capital cases and personal and catastrophic injury, a defendant could be imprisoned for life,” says Lajoie. “I gather facts, observe and report to my client about a person’s credibility and appearance. I tell how they’d testify in court so a decision can be made about the balance of life.” His extensive background in legal, criminal defense, corporate and claims management investigation has propelled him to the top of his profession, allowing him to play a critical role in high profile cases.