Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Murder Convictions Related to Fall River Shooting

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the murder convictions against two men who robbed and shot to death a drug dealer in a Fall River housing complex.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Mendez

On November 18, 2010, the defendants robbed two drug dealers.  The first escaped with his life but the second, a man named Edward Platts, was not so lucky.  Platts parked his car in the housing complex, where he was scheduled to meet and sell marijuana to one of the defendants.  When the defendants learned Platts would be in possession of several thousand dollars, they decided to rob him.  A witness who was parked in front of Platts saw two men matching the defendants’ descriptions approach Platts’s car.  Second later, the witness heard a gunshot and Platts’s car collided with the witness’ car.  The witness called 911 to report the shooting and said the shooters had fled the scene.  A resident of the housing complex looked out of her window and saw a man matching the description of one of the defendants get into Platts’s car and quickly exit while holding an object against his chest.  A state trooper arrived at the housing complex within 10 minutes and observed it to be unusually quiet.  The trooper saw one of the defendants quickly get into a car that had parked at a nearby curb.  As the defendant entered the car, it began driving away before the defendant had closed the door behind him.  The trooper began following the car as it drove apparently aimlessly through city streets.  The trooper ran the car’s license plate and learned someone associated with the owner had a lengthy criminal record.  The trooper decided to stop the car approximately four miles from the scene of the murder.  The defendants, who had been sitting in the back seat, got out of the car and ran in opposite directions.  They were both apprehended in short order.  Both defendants had guns; one defendant possessed more than $4,000; and one defendant’s clothes were stained with the victim’s blood.  The cops found one of the defendant’s hats in the victim’s car.  The defendants argued at trial that the victim had pulled a gun on them, and they wrestled the gun away and shot the victim in self-defense.  Both men were convicted of first-degree murder.

The primary issue on appeal was the propriety of the stop of the defendants’ vehicle.  The defendants had filed motions to suppress their stop and seizure by the police and a superior court judge ruled the police conduct was constitutional.  On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court agreed the police had acted appropriately.  The Court pointed out that after receiving a 911 dispatch from an eyewitness, a trooper had arrived at the scene in a short amount of time.  One of the defendants appeared to be in a rush as he entered the getaway car.  As he followed the car, the trooper noticed it did not appear to have any destination.  An individual associated with the owner had a serious criminal record.  Based on these facts, the trooper had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendants and conduct a threshold inquiry to determine if they were involved in the murder.  Accordingly, the defendants’ convictions were proper and their life sentences were upheld.