The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed a Bourne man’s conviction for strangling his girlfriend, holding that the evidence was sufficient to support the jury’s guilty finding. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Rogers.
On April 24, 2018, the defendant and his girlfriend of 10 years were arguing at their home. The defendant had consumed eight shots of vodka along with four or five beers and the girlfriend told him to stop drinking. The defendant, apparently not appreciating the advice, grabbed the girlfriend around her neck. While applying pressure to the girlfriend’s neck, the defendant pulled her off the couch and threw her to the floor. The girlfriend testified she was in pain while being grabbed by the defendant and coughed as soon as she was released from his grasp. The girlfriend grabbed her phone as she stood up and told the defendant she planned to call the cops. The defendant slapped her in the face and knocked the phone out of her hand. The girlfriend grabbed the defendant’s phone and used it to call the police. She reported she had been assaulted and that the defendant had threatened to kill her. She took refuge in the bathroom until the police showed up. When the officers arrived, they saw scratches on the girlfriend’s chest and marks on her neck that were consistent with having been strangled. The officers took pictures of the girlfriend’s injuries and they were presented to the jury. The defendant was convicted of strangulation in addition to assault and battery on a family or household member. He appealed and the Appeals Court affirmed.
The defendant’s primary appellate argument challenged the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the strangulation conviction. To convict the defendant of strangulation, the Commonwealth needed to have proven that he intentionally interfered with his girlfriend’s normal circulation of blood or breathing by applying substantial pressure on her neck or throat. The defendant asserted that the evidence did not establish he touched the girlfriend’s neck or throat, or that he interrupted her breathing. At trial, the victim testified that the defendant had grabbed her around the jaw line, but she had reported to the cops that the defendant had grabbed her by the throat. She also said she was scared when the defendant had his hand on her neck. The Court said this testimony, in conjunction with the photographs depicting injuries to the girlfriend’s neck, provided sufficient evidence for the jury to convict the defendant of strangulation. The Court also held the evidence established the defendant had interfered with the girlfriend’s breathing. The girlfriend did not directly testify that the defendant had hindered or impeded her breathing. However, she did testify the defendant had applied pressure to her neck while removing her from the couch and had dragged her and thrown her to the ground. She experienced neck pain during the process and when the defendant released her, she coughed. It was reasonable, according to the Appeals Court, for the jury to infer based on this evidence that the defendant had interfered with her breathing.