The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld second-degree murder convictions against two men who assisted a fellow inmate in murdering an elderly inmate at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Connors.
In 1973, William Sires murdered his mother. On August 12, 2014, he was an inmate at Souza-Baranowski, where some of the Commonwealth’s most violent prisoners serve their time. Also serving time at Sousa-Baranowski was Michael Freeman, who had been convicted of murdering a disabled war veteran in 1995. Sires, who was in his seventies and used a cane, was walking around a common area when he got into a fight with Freeman. Other inmates broke up the fight and Freeman huddled with the two defendants named in the present appeal (Connors and Erazo). Shortly thereafter, Sires was walking toward a cell in which Freeman was hiding. Erazo grabbed Sires from behind and pulled him inside the cell where Freeman was waiting. Erazo then exited the cell and Connors pulled a curtain across the door. Upon a shouted request from an unidentified inmate, a guard closed the cell door from the correction officer station. About half an hour later, a guard noticed blood on the wall of the cell, and when he looked inside he saw Sires’s body lying on the floor. He had been beaten so badly that he was unrecognizable. Freeman took responsibility for the murder and said he was “the only one.” Nevertheless, Erazo and Connors were indicted and charged with first-degree murder. Following their convictions by a jury of second-degree murder, they appealed.
The defendants’ primary appellate argument was there was insufficient evidence to convict them of murder. They were charged under a felony-murder theory, which means that while committing another felony (kidnapping), a death resulted. The Appeals Court concluded the Commonwealth had presented sufficient evidence to establish the defendants had participated in a joint venture to kidnap Sires. A person is guilty of kidnapping when he forcibly or secretly confines or imprisons another person against his will. In this case Erazo was seen on surveillance video pulling Sires into a cell while Sires resisted. Erazo admitted that Sires did not voluntarily go into the cell. After Sires was confined in the cell, Connors pulled the curtain across the door to prevent a correction officer from seeing him. It was reasonable on that evidence for the jury to find that the defendants had participated in a joint enterprise to kidnap Sires by delivering him to Freeman in the cell. It was further reasonable for the jury to infer that the defendants knew Freeman planned to beat Sires before they participated in the kidnapping. Therefore, the felony-murder rule was applicable to this case.
The defendants also argued there was insufficient evidence of intent to allow the jury to have convicted them of murder. Second-degree murder is an unlawful killing with malice aforethought. The Appeals Court concluded the Commonwealth proved malice here where the defendants delivered a disabled man in his seventies to a much younger inmate to engage in a physical altercation. Such conduct by the defendants created a strong likelihood of death, and the convictions were therefore proper.