Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Reverses Rape Conviction, But Upholds Murder Conviction, in Fitchburg Case

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday upheld the first-degree murder conviction against a Berlin man in a Fitchburg murder, but reversed his conviction for raping the victim.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Scesny.

On October 23, 1996, the victim, who sometimes worked as a prostitute, and her daughter ran errands before returning to their Fitchburg apartment.  The victim later left alone to go grocery shopping.  After she shopped, the victim went to a Fitchburg bar and stayed for about an hour before going home with her groceries.  When she arrived at home, she told her daughter that a man in a truck had driven her home from the bar and was waiting for her outside, but she did not want to go anywhere with him.  Later that night, the victim told her daughter that she was leaving to visit a temporary employment agency.

Two days later, the victim’s partially-nude body was discovered on the side of a Fitchburg road.  Her pants and underwear had been pulled down to her knees and there appeared to be a condom wrapper near her body.  There were numerous injuries to the victim’s body and the medical examiner determined that she had died by strangulation by ligature.  Semen was discovered in the victim’s rectum and blood stains containing DNA were found on her clothes.

The case went unsolved for many years.  In 2007, the defendant was charged with an unrelated rape.  As a result, his DNA was entered into the state database and it matched the genetic material found on the victim’s body and clothes.  The defendant was charged with raping and murdering the victim.  He admitted to having sex with her on the date in question, but insisted that it was consensual.  He denied killing the victim and presented evidence suggesting that one of two other men had committed the crime.  The jury didn’t buy his story and convicted him of rape and murder.

The defendant appealed, claiming a number of errors had occurred during his trial.  He first argued that the evidence at trial was insufficient to establish that he had committed the crimes.  The Supreme Judicial Court agreed with him that the evidence did not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the sex he had with the victim was not consented to.  The victim’s clothes were not torn and there were no injuries to the victim’s genitals.  Further, the victim was a prostitute and her daughter testified that she would not have been surprised if her mother was “going to make some money” the night of the killing.  Therefore, the defendant’s rape conviction was reversed.

The Court did find, however, that the evidence was sufficient to convict him of murder.  The evidence proved that the defendant had sex with the victim close to the time of her murder, that the defendant’s blood was on her clothes, that the victim had not pulled up her pants after having anal sex with the defendant, and that the victim had significant injuries all over her body.  Thus, according to the Court, a jury could have reasonably found that the defendant killed the victim.

The defendant went to trial on the rape case that led to his DNA being included in the state database, and he was found not guilty.  However, he has long been considered a “person of interest” in a series of other murders of prostitutes.  He has never been charged with those deaths and those cases remain under investigation.