The Massachusetts Appeals Court today rejected a convicted rapist’s latest request for a new trial. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Laguer.
The defendant was convicted in 1984 of raping his 59-year-old, mentally ill neighbor in Leominster. The victim was initially unable to identify her assailant, only describing him as a short black man. However, the next day, she told the police the defendant had been the attacker and she identified him in a photo array. The defendant argued he had been misidentified and there was no physical evidence presented at the trial connecting the defendant with the crime. The jury found the defendant guilty and the judge sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole.
The defendant has repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, asked for a new trial since his conviction. The subject of one motion was allegedly racist comments made by the jurors during their deliberations. A juror testified on behalf of the defendant but a superior court judge found him not to be credible and concluded he had been “seriously lobb[ied]” by associates of the defendant. Another time, the defendant successfully argued that DNA analysis should be conducted on biological material found in the victim’s pubic hair (such testing had not been available at the time of the trial). The DNA analysis found that the defendant could not be excluded as the source of the biological material, and the profile of the analyzed DNA occurs in less than one out of 100 million black people (providing compelling evidence that the defendant was guilty).
In his newest motion for a new trial, the defendant argued newly discovered evidence once again suggests he is innocent. The supposedly new evidence is the discovery of two transcripts of interviews of a woman who worked as the victim’s health care aide while the victim lived at a halfway house following the rape. The aide said the victim was delusional and frequently believed other dark skinned men were her attackers. A superior court judge ruled the evidence related to the aide’s statement could have been discovered with reasonable diligence at the time of the trial. Accordingly, it is not “new” in the legal sense. Additionally, the judge questioned the reliability of the transcripts, pointing out that the statements are unsworn and the transcripts are not signed. Even if the aide was the source of the statements, there is no evidence she reviewed and confirmed the substance of the transcripts. Finally, the judge concluded that even if the aide’s testimony had been admitted at the trial, there is no substantial risk the jury would have reached a different verdict. The Appeals Court upheld the superior court judge’s denial of the defendant’s motion for a new trial, holding that his analysis of the legal issues was correct.
This case is notable because during the defendant’s more than three decades in prison, he has convinced many people of his innocence, including former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and former Boston University President John Silber. He has been represented by Robert Cordy (who currently sits on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court) and James Rehnquist (the son of the late Chief Justice of the United States). It is believed that the defendant would have been paroled many years ago if he had admitted he was guilty of the crime. His refusal to admit guilt may have added decades to his sentence.