The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld the larceny conviction against a man who entered the home of his neighbors, who had recently been murdered, and stole property from them. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Green.
Crystal Perry and Kristopher Williams were murdered in their Falmouth house either the night of June 11, 2013, or early the following morning. The cops found their blood-soaked bodies in the kitchen and living room at around 1:30 a.m. on the morning of June 12th. The house had been ransacked and it was clear the front door had been forced open. The defendant was the murder victims’ neighbor. For the previous two and a half years, he worked as a mason’s assistant. At the end of every work day, the defendant’s boss paid him in cash, which the defendant promptly used to feed his heroin addiction. The defendant’s boss picked him up on the morning of June 12th, just hours after the police found the murder victims. The defendant suggested to his boss that they buy heroin together. Although the defendant usually did not have cash at the beginning of the day, on the morning of June 12th he had even more money than he had been paid the day before. The defendant and his boss bought between $200 and $300 worth of heroin. The boss also noticed the defendant was wearing a different pair of boots than what he usually wore on his feet.
The cops interviewed the defendant the following day, and then again four days later. The defendant admitted he entered the victims’ home to look for drugs and saw the house had been ransacked. He said he took $100 he found on the floor near the entrance. After searching one of the victim’s wallets and going through at least some of the victims’ pockets, the defendant went into a bedroom and took another $140 he found on a bed. He used all of the money he stole to purchase drugs. The defendant was charged with stealing in a building. A superior court judge convicted the defendant in a jury-waived trial and sentenced him to serve two years in state prison. He appealed.
The defendant challenged his conviction primarily by arguing the evidence was insufficient to establish his guilt because his confession to the police was not corroborated by other evidence. In Massachusetts, an “uncorroborated confession” is insufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, if someone walks into a police station and tells an officer he committed a crime, but there is no other evidence that corroborates the confession, the person cannot be convicted. However, the amount of corroboration that is necessary is minimal. Even the smallest, most insignificant corroborative fact will suffice to prove that “the crime was real and not imaginary.” The Appeals Court decided in this case that the minimal corroborative facts were sufficient to uphold the conviction. The Court said it was reasonable to think items had been stolen, given that the house had been ransacked. Further, the defendant was able to provide details about the interior of the house that he would not have known if he had not been inside. The defendant’s possession of cash on the morning of June 12th (when he usually had no money) suggested he had stolen it, and his wearing of new boots suggested the possibility that he had walked through a bloody crime scene the night before. Accordingly, the Appeals Court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.
This case is yet another reminder that it is almost always a mistake to give a statement to the police. If the defendant here had kept his mouth shut, the Commonwealth likely would not have been able to prove his guilt. If a police officer wants to ask you questions about a crime, you should immediately contact a criminal defense attorney.