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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Cold-Case Murder Conviction

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the murder conviction of a maintenance man who killed an elderly woman at her elder housing complex in Springfield in 1991.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Diaz

On a January morning in 1991, the victim’s daughter-in-law conducted a well-being check at the victim’s apartment after the victim had not shown up at church as expected.  When the daughter-in-law arrived at the victim’s apartment, she noticed the front door appeared to be unlocked and the back door was open.  The daughter-in-law called the victim’s name and received no response.  The daughter-in-law found the victim’s wet purse in a bathroom sink and there was a towel in the toilet.  There was blood all over the place – splattered on the bathroom wall, the bedroom wall, and the bedroom’s dresser and curtains.  The victim was discovered lying dead on her bed.  She had been viciously beaten and a subsequent autopsy established she died of blunt trauma to her head and chest.  Her nose and seven other bones in her face were broken.  A section of her larynx had been crushed and her mouth and lungs contained blood.  She also had a broken sternum and four broken ribs.  The medical examiner concluded she had been strangled, based on hemorrhages contained in each of her eyes.  Finally, there was evidence the victim had been sexually assaulted.  When her body was found, her nightgown was pulled up over her waist and her bloody underwear was lying on the floor next to her bed.  The medical examiner located a vaginal tear along with blood in her anal cavity.  The medical examiner took a series of vaginal swabs but did not conduct DNA analysis, as regular DNA testing did not occur in the State police lab until about a decade later.  Immediately following the murder, the police interviewed a number of potential witnesses, including the defendant.  The defendant appeared distraught by the victim’s death.  No arrests were made around the time of the murder.

Approximately 21 years later, the Hampden District Attorney’s Office reopened the investigation and sought DNA samples from several men who had regular contact with the victim in 1991.  The cops tracked down the defendant at his workplace and asked him to voluntarily provide a sample of his DNA (by allowing the cops to scrape the inside of his cheek with a swab).  The defendant foolishly agreed to provide a sample of his DNA to the police.  His DNA matched sperm cells found on the victim’s body, and he was arrested and charged with rape and murder.  Because the statute of limitations had run on the rape charge, it was dismissed.  The defendant was thereafter convicted of first-degree murder by a Hampden County superior court jury and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

On appeal, the defendant challenged a number of statements made by the prosecutor during her closing argument.  The Court agreed that some of the prosecutor’s comments had been improper, particularly those involving speculation about the defendant’s possible motive, but any such statements would not have impacted the jury’s decision given the strength of the Commonwealth’s case.  Accordingly, the defendant’s murder conviction was affirmed.

It’s hard to overstate the defendant’s stupidity in agreeing to provide a sample of his DNA to the police.  If the cops ever ask you to provide your biological material to them, you should politely decline and immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney.

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