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Convicted sex offender goes to trial in restroom killing

There is a foundation now, and on its website there is a photograph of a smiling, petite woman and a quotation from Edna St. Vincent Millay. "My candle burns at both ends. It will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -- it gives a lovely light."The picture is of Alexandra Nicole Zapp, who was stabbed to death July 18, 2002, by a convicted sex offender in the restroom of a Burger King on Route 24 in Bridgewater, authorities say.

Jury selection begins today in Plymouth Superior Court in Brockton in the first-degree murder trial of Zapp's alleged killer, 40-year-old Paul J. Leahy, a former Burger King employee.

Authorities had tried to return the convicted rapist to prison but were unable to under the state's sex offender law.

Authorities say Zapp, 30, of Newport, R.I., was on her way home when she was killed.

State Police Lieutenant Stephen O'Reilly, heading home from work, was in the men's room and heard shouting and scuffling.

He entered the ladies' room and found Zapp's body in one of the stalls and Leahy washing blood from the knife he allegedly used in the killing.

Leahy has pleaded not guilty to four charges, including first-degree murder, and has been held without bail since his arrest.

Leahy's court-appointed defense attorney, Frank H. Spillane, could not be reached for comment last week. According to court records, he will not pursue an insanity defense.

Since her daughter's killing, Andrea M. Casanova has worked with Governor Mitt Romney and Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz to close the legal gaps they believe allowed Leahy to remain free after his sexual assault conviction.

There have been hearings on Beacon Hill, including one in April at which a statement from Casanova was entered into the legislative record.

"Since Alexandra's death July 18, 2002, I vowed that her beautiful life would have a purpose she would be proud of," Casanova wrote. "Helping others was central to Alexandra's life and even in death she has shown us a way to further help and protect others."

Family and friends have established The Ally Foundation, the aim of which is to change laws to better protect the public from repeat criminal offenders.

Last month, Casanova testified before the Legislature's Criminal Justice Committee. The panel has since approved a measure that would allow prosecutors to seek the commitment of convicted sex offenders to a special treatment center, even if the new crime they've committed is not a sex offense.

The bill is pending before the Senate Ways and Means Committee, according to an aide to Senator Robert S. Creedon, Jr., a Brockton Democrat and the measure's chief legislative sponsor.

Leahy had previously been convicted of forcing a woman into the back room of a Brockton pizza shop and raping her. He served 13 years of a 15-year sentence before being released in 2000. One year later, he was convicted of accosting a minor and demanding oral sex and was jailed again. He was released on that charge in November 2001, eight months before he allegedly killed Zapp.

Cruz had tried to have Leahy declared a sexually dangerous person following his release on the accosting charge, which would have sent him to the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater..

But a judge rejected the request, citing a Supreme Judicial Court ruling that said the sexual predator law applied only to specific sex crimes and Leahy's conviction for accosting the minor did not qualify.

Cruz declined to comment on the Zapp trial, saying through his spokeswoman, Plymouth Assistant District Attorney Bridget Norton Middleton, that he would wait for the verdict before publicly discussing the case.

Norton Middleton said the prosecution's witness list includes 10 people, including O'Reilly and a trooper whose task will be to recreate for the jury -- based on Zapp's spattered blood -- her final moments.

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