The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld the second-degree murder conviction of a Winthrop man who stabbed to death his friend during an alcohol-fueled fight. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. LaCoy.
The defendant and the victim were both alcoholics. They met in a homeless shelter before the defendant moved into an apartment in Winthrop. The victim often stayed with the defendant and there was evidence that the two men had a consensual sexual relationship (there was also evidence that the defendant repeatedly sexually assaulted the victim after he blacked out from drinking). The men spent much of their free time together drinking vodka, but the defendant complained the victim used him to obtain money and alcohol. In July of 2011, the defendant was hosting the victim in his apartment when they began to argue. According to the defendant, he and the victim had been drinking at the beach earlier in the day. When they returned to the defendant’s home, he cooked dinner for the victim, who threw away the plate of food and complained he wanted more booze. The victim allegedly attacked the defendant with a metal box fan. As the victim attempted to strangle the defendant, the defendant grabbed a knife and stabbed the victim once in the chest. The knife punctured the victim’s heart, killing him. The defendant dragged the victim’s body outside and left it near a back porch, where it was discovered nine days later after the police received complaints about a foul odor coming from the vicinity of the defendant’s residence. After the murder, the defendant checked himself into a local hospital and claimed he was suicidal. He made a series of admissions to his nurse and friends about his involvement in the victim’s death. At trial, he argued he had been defending himself. Following his conviction for second-degree murder, he appealed.
The defendant argued the trial judge had committed error by allowing the Commonwealth to admit evidence that the defendant had, on several occasions, sexually assaulted the victim after the victim passed out from drinking. The trial judge ruled, and the Appeals Court agreed, the evidence was admissible to support the Commonwealth’s theory that the defendant was angry at the victim for, among other things, refusing to have consensual sex with him. The hostile nature of the relationship between the defendant and the victim was relevant to the issue of whether the defendant was defending himself or aggressively attacking the victim.
The defendant also argued he received ineffective assistance of counsel when his attorney made offensive statements about homosexuality during his opening statement and closing argument. The defense attorney characterized homosexual acts as lewd, lascivious, florid, and obscene and suggested homosexuality constituted an abnormal psychology. The Appeals Court acknowledged the defense attorney’s argument “indulged in gross and discriminatory stereotype, and was condemnatory of the defendant,” but ultimately concluded the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming. Therefore, even if the defense attorney’s comments were improper, the jury would not have reached a different verdict and the defendant was therefore not prejudiced.
The defendant was sentenced to life in prison but will be parole eligible after serving 15 years of his sentence.