Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Conviction in Horrifying Dorchester Murder

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday affirmed the murder conviction of a man who helped his codefendant gun down a 14-year-old boy on a Dorchester street.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Lopes

On May 30, 2010, the victim and his 15-year-old brother were riding a scooter together in Dorchester.  The victim’s brother was driving.  At some point, the brother nearly collided with the defendant, who was riding his bicycle.  No words were exchanged and the victim’s brother drove away.  Shortly thereafter, the victim asked his brother if he could drive the scooter by himself.  After the brother agreed, the victim put on the brother’s helmet and drove away.  An off-duty Boston police officer was in the area and noticed the defendant and another young man (later identified as the codefendant) lurking around near where the victim was driving the scooter.  When the victim drove close to the defendant, the defendant ran into the street and grabbed the victim by his shoulder.  The defendant motioned to the codefendant, who fired multiple shots into the victim’s chest.  The codefendant then ran away and the defendant rode away on his bicycle.  The murder happened in front of the off-duty officer and another independent witness.  Other officers responded to the scene and located the codefendant running away with a gun in his hand.  Meanwhile, the defendant returned to the murder scene and was confronted by the off-duty officer who witnessed the shooting.  Both men were placed into custody.  At the police station, an officer overheard the defendant tell the codefendant to “take the fault.”  Gunshot residue was found on the defendant’s shirt and the codefendant’s hands.  Both men were convicted of first-degree murder.  After being sentenced to life in prison, the defendant appealed and alleged several errors had tainted his trial.

The primary appellate argument dealt with the jury selection process.  The empanelment of a jury can be a lengthy process, particularly in high-profile cases.  The trial judge is responsible for weeding out potential jurors who would not be able to serve because of any type of bias.  And each lawyer has the right to preclude a certain number of people from the jury without offering a reason for their exclusion.  When a lawyer strikes a potential juror for no given reason, it’s referred to as a peremptory challenge.  While the lawyer is ordinarily not obligated to explain his reason for excluding a potential juror, there are rules that prohibit striking potential jurors based on their sex, race, color, national origin, or creed.  In this case, the defendant argued the prosecutor had used peremptory challenges to exclude potential jurors based on their race.  The Supreme Judicial Court reviewed the trial transcript and concluded the prosecutor was not systematically excluding racial minorities – instead, the prosecutor was methodically excluding the younger (under the age of 30) jurors.  The prosecutor suggested to the trial judge that college-aged jurors are ill-equipped to decide murder cases.  The Supreme Judicial Court concluded the prosecutor’s pattern of excluding jurors dealt with youth, not race.  Because age is not a protected class (such as race or gender), the prosecutor had not violated the defendant’s constitutional rights.

The defendant, who was 22 years old at the time of the trial, will spend the rest of his life in prison.