The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed a woman’s convictions for multiple crimes, including mayhem, after determining the evidence was sufficient to prove she directed one of her employees to cut off the finger of another of her employees. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Silvia.
The defendant was the owner of Columbia Towing in Fall River. The victim worked for the company and also lived in an apartment owned by the defendant. The victim was close to the defendant and her husband, and considered them to be family. In 2012, the relationship soured when the defendant accused the victim of stealing $50,000 from the company. On March 27, 2012, the defendant’s husband and another employee of the tow company beat the victim in the tow yard while the defendant interrogated him and demanded he admit to the theft. The victim insisted he did not steal the money and was ultimately able to leave the premises, but not before the defendant took his cell phone, bike and truck keys. The victim showed up the next day and the defendant again demanded that he confess to stealing the $50,000. When the victim declined to make a confession, another company employee became involved. John Soares had performed plumbing work at the tow yard and was a physically imposing man, weighing close to 300 pounds and standing taller than six feet. After Soares showed up, the defendant’s husband rearranged the position of the security cameras so they did not record anything that happened in the garage. Soares met with the defendant in her office while the victim waited in the hallway, as ordered by the defendant. When Soares emerged, he escorted the victim to the garage. Soares told the victim his nickname was the sandman because “people go to sleep.” Soares then told the victim to put a towel in his mouth, place his hands on a tool bench, and close his eyes. The victim followed the instructions and then felt Soares cut off his pinky finger. When the victim opened his eyes, the finger was dangling by a piece of skin. Soares went to the defendant’s office and she gave him a knife, which he used to cut the remaining piece of skin, fully amputating the finger. Soares then brought the severed finger into the defendant’s office and showed it to her. The defendant walked into the garage and told the victim to tell the truth, at which point he said, “Fine. Whatever. I did it.” The defendant told the victim to say an accident had caused him to lose his finger. Shortly thereafter, the cops arrived at the tow yard and observed the victim’s injured hand. They also recovered surveillance footage that was used against the defendant at her trial. A Bristol County Superior Court Jury convicted the defendant of mayhem, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury, and intimidation of a witness. She was sentenced to serve 8-10 years in state prison.
The defendant’s primary appellate argument was that there was insufficient evidence for her to be convicted of mayhem. The Commonwealth prosecuted the case on a joint venture theory, which means the defendant was a knowing participant in the commission of the crime and had the same intent as the primary actor (Soares). The Appeals Court pointed out the defendant had supervisory authority over both the victim and Soares. The defendant was actively involved in a pressure campaign to use physical force to obtain a confession from the victim. It was reasonable to believe the defendant knew Soares would use a weapon with the intent to maim or disfigure the victim. The fact that the defendant was not present in the garage at the time of the amputation supports an inference that she knew what was about to happen. The evidence of the surveillance videos being moved prior to the attack also supported an inference that the defendant knew what Soares planned to do to the victim. Finally, the defendant gave Soares the knife to complete the amputation. The defendant participated in the crime before, during, and after, with her last act being to tell the victim to make up a story about how he lost his finger. The Appeals Court concluded the evidence was sufficient to support the mayhem conviction.