Massachusetts Appeals Court Upholds Murder Conviction in Roxbury Bus Station Shooting

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed a second-degree murder conviction against a defendant who participated in the fatal shooting of a man who was boarding a bus in Roxbury in 2013.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Bannister.

The defendant and the victim were members of rival gangs who had a long-term acrimonious relationship.  They fought on multiple occasions when they were incarcerated together a few years prior to the victim’s murder.  At just before 10 p.m. on February 28, 2013, the defendant and his co-conspirator, Brian Cooper, approached the victim on the bus platform at the Dudley Street Station.  After a brief conversation, the victim walked toward a bus and Cooper shot him twice in the back.  Video surveillance captured the defendant standing behind Cooper while raising and lowering his arm.  The victim collapsed and later died from his injuries.  An eyewitness saw the defendant put a gun into his pocket and run away from the station with Cooper, toward Washington Street.  When Cooper and the defendant turned onto Washington Street, they were confronted by two Boston police officers who were responding to the area after hearing the gunshots.  The cops ordered the men to the ground at gunpoint.  Cooper complied, but the defendant fled.  As one of the officers gave chase, the defendant began running faster while he passed through a bank parking lot.  In short order, the defendant was taken into custody by two other officers.  After the defendant was secured, officers retraced his steps and found a loaded semiautomatic firearm on the ground inside the bank parking lot.  At the police station, the defendant denied knowing the victim and said he was running from the murder scene because he heard the gunshots and was worried about being shot.  A Suffolk Superior Court jury didn’t buy his story and convicted him of second-degree murder on a joint venture theory.  He appealed.

The defendant’s primary appellate argument was that the police officers lacked the constitutional authority to stop him, and therefore his pretrial motion to suppress his arrest and the discovery of the gun should have been allowed.  The Commonwealth and the defendant agreed he was in custody when the officers ordered him to the ground as he fled the murder scene.  To justify the stop, the cops needed reasonable suspicion, based on specific and articulable facts, that the defendant was involved in criminal activity.  The Appeals Court concluded the Commonwealth had satisfied its burden and the defendant’s motion to suppress was properly denied.  The Court pointed out that the officers responded to the scene within seconds of hearing the gunshots and immediately saw the defendant and Cooper.  Nobody other than the defendant and Cooper were running from the scene, and Cooper was holding a gun.  Because the cops heard the gunshots, an imminent threat was present and the police needed to promptly investigate the source of the gunshots.  Considering the circumstances of the case, including the nature of the crime, the defendant’s close proximity to the shooting, and the fact that the man running next to him was holding a gun, it was constitutional for the police to stop the defendant.