Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Life Sentences for Teenage Murderers

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed the murder convictions of three men who participated in the stabbing death of a 16-year-old boy.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Mitchell.

In 2007, Terrance Jacobs was stabbed to death in Mattapan.  Four months earlier, Jacobs had been charged with slashing the face of a 14-year-old boy.  The Commonwealth’s theory of the case was that the defendants, who were friends or relatives of the boy who had his face slashed, murdered Jacobs in retaliation.  The altercation between the defendants and the victim began as a fistfight but quickly turned more violent as the victim attempted to flee the scene.  The defendants pursued him and, according to witnesses, they all stabbed him.  All told the victim was stabbed at least 19 times.  He was pronounced dead upon arrival at a local hospital.

After a lengthy police investigation, the defendants were finally arrested and charged with the victim’s murder.  The police took statements from a number of witnesses and the defendants, who each denied murdering the victim.  The jury convicted each defendant of murder.  Two of the defendants, Markeese Mitchell and Terrance Pabon, were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime and were sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.  They made several arguments on appeal, many of which dealt with the admission of statements they had made to the police.

About a month after the murder, Boston police officers called Mitchell’s grandfather to request a meeting.  The grandfather invited the officers to his home, where they met with the defendant and the defendant’s father and grandfather.  The cops were wearing plain clothes and told the defendant he could end the interview anytime.  The defendant initially denied knowing anything about the murder, but when confronted with his image on surveillance footage he changed his story.  He ultimately admitted to being present at the crime scene and admitted to running away.  He filed a motion to suppress his statement, arguing that it had been made involuntarily and that he should have received his Miranda warnings prior to the interview.  A superior court judge denied his motion, concluding he was not in custody and therefore not entitled to receive Miranda warnings.  With respect to the voluntariness argument, the superior court judge pointed out that the police warned the defendant they were coming to his grandfather’s house for an interview, his father and grandfather were both present, and the defendant made statements that were intended to limit or eliminate his criminal liability.  The evidence established beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant’s will was not overborne and accordingly his statement was properly admitted at his trial.

The Appeals Court also upheld the denial of defendant Pabon’s motion to suppress.  Pabon made statements to the police while in police custody and after receiving his Miranda warnings.  Pabon’s argument was that the police had inaccurately defined the different degrees of murder and manslaughter, which had rendered his statements in response to be involuntary.  The Appeals Court rejected his argument, ruling the police statements had no coercive effect on the defendant’s decision to make a statement.

This case is another reminder that suspects in criminal investigations should never speak to the police without first consulting a criminal defense attorney.  The police are not trying to assist suspects in clearing their names – they are trying to induce suspects to make incriminating statements.  If the police would like to speak to you for any reason, you should talk to an attorney first.