The Massachusetts Appeals Court today reversed the murder conviction of a man who gunned down an off-duty Revere police officer, ruling that the trial judge committed reversible error by refusing to instruct the jury to consider whether the defendant was acting in self-defense. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Iacoviello.
After completing firearms training exercises on September 28, 2007, the victim and two other police officers began drinking. They drank for hours and ended up at the baseball field behind Revere High School, where they continued to drink. The victim and at least one other officer were carrying their department-issued guns. At some point, a man (later identified as “Lodie”) who may have been affiliated with a gang walked by and the victim decided to mouth off to him, calling him a “Blood killer.” Someone else in the victim’s group commented that Lodie was walking like a gangster. Lodie was on the phone with one of the defendant’s friends and reported that there was a group of people on the baseball field being disrespectful. In response, the defendant and a few friends decided to travel to the field to confront the victim. On the way to the field, the defendant stopped and picked up a gun.
Before the defendant arrived, Lodie and the victim began yelling at each other. The victim was described as “heated.” He pulled out his gun and assumed a firing stance. Within seconds, there was a shootout between the victim and the defendant. The evidence suggested the victim fired as many as two or three shots. Within seconds, the defendant pulled his gun from his waistband and shot the victim once in the head, immediately incapacitating him. He died later that day.
At the defendant’s murder trial, he asked the judge to instruct the jury that he had the right to use reasonable force (even deadly force) to defend himself. The judge refused to do so, commenting that the defendant’s assertion of self-defense was “too speculative.” The Appeals Court ruled the trial judge was wrong for refusing to instruct on self-defense. An individual is permitted to use deadly force to defend himself when he: (1) reasonably and actually believed he was imminently in danger of dying or being seriously injured and the only way to save himself was with deadly force; (2) made attempts to avoid physical combat before using deadly force; and (3) did not use any more force than what was necessary. The Appeals Court pointed out that the fight between the two groups was chaotic. The confrontation happened in a small space between people who were drunk and agitated, and it lasted for only a few seconds. There was evidence that the victim and his cop friends started the fight by mouthing off to Lodie. Neither the victim nor his friends ever announced themselves as police officers. Not only did the victim pull out his gun, but he also fired it. When considering this evidence, according to the Appeals Court, it may have been reasonable for the defendant to fear for his life and to use deadly force to protect himself. The jurors should have been given the opportunity to consider whether the defendant was lawfully defending himself.
The case will be remanded to the superior court where the defendant will be retried for murder.