The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed a Chicago man’s conviction for tagging a train at the Alewife station, but reversed his convictions for more than a dozen other vandalism incidents at two other Boston train stations. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Biesiot.
The Boston subway system was the target of a large-scale vandalism spree from 2005 through 2010. During that time, trains were spray painted at five different stations with the tags “Wyse” and “D-30.” A joint task force involving members of the Boston Police Department and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Police Department investigated the crimes and learned the “Wyse” and “D-30” tags were associated with a graffiti gang known as the “Dirty Thirty” crew. The police were able to obtain a video and still photographs of the defendant spray painting “D-30” on the side of a newspaper box. The defendant has a long history of being accused of graffiti-type crimes and, according to the Boston Globe, has faced charges in six other states. The cops learned the defendant had been staying at an apartment in Allston and obtained a search warrant. During the execution of the warrant, the police found the defendant’s mail, paint-stained sneakers, maps of Boston, a canister with a design that contained the word “Wyse,” and photos, posters, and books containing photographs of graffiti. He was charged with vandalizing trains at five stations. The jury convicted him of vandalizing trains at the Alewife, Reservoir, and Codman Square Stations (and acquitted him of the charges related to the other two stations) and the trial judge sentenced him to serve one year in jail (followed by three years of probation). The judge also ordered him to pay restitution to compensate the city for the cleanup costs. The defendant appealed.
The defendant was never seen at the Reservoir Station or the Codman Square Station. The prosecutor convinced the jury to convict the defendant based solely on the defendant’s signature tags (“Wyse” and “D-30”) having been painted on the trains. On appeal, the Commonwealth argued “Wyse” was the defendant’s signature or moniker, and therefore the jury correctly inferred it was the defendant who was responsible for spray painting the trains. The Appeals Court disagreed, holding that the connection between the graffiti and the defendant was too attenuated to support the conviction. The Court pointed out there was not evidence describing unique features of the “Wyse” tag that could connect only the defendant to the graffiti. Accordingly, the evidence was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had tagged the trains at the Reservoir and Codman Square Stations, and those convictions were reversed.
The vandalism at the Alewife Station was a different story. Unfortunately for the defendant, an MBTA employee saw him lurking around a train that had been recently vandalized with the “D-30” tag. Even more suspicious was the fact that the defendant set up a camera and tripod and took a picture of the recently-vandalized train. The Court ruled the defendant’s presence at the scene, combined with the evidence recovered from his apartment and the evidence linking him with “D-30” graffiti in other locations was sufficient to sustain the conviction related to the Alewife vandalism.
A vandalism conviction in Massachusetts is no joke – it can result in a state prison sentence. If you are charged with vandalizing property, you should immediately consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney.