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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Affirms Drug-Related New Bedford Murder Conviction

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the first-degree murder conviction of a man who participated in a drug rip in New Bedford that resulted in the shooting death of a drug dealer.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Cole.

The defendant was a drug dealer.  On Christmas Eve in 2005, he and two associates decided to rob another drug dealer in order to solve a cash flow problem they were experiencing.  They armed themselves with a sawed-off rifle and drive to a New Bedford apartment where a man named Christopher Busby lived.  Busby was at the apartment with his friend (the soon-to-be victim).  Busby and the victim sold drugs together out of the apartment and kept a large supply locked in the basement.

The defendant and his friends forced their way into Busby’s apartment and a fight ensued between the two groups of drug dealers.  Busby passed out after being stabbed multiple times, but not before stabbing one of the assailants in the leg with a Samurai sword.  While he was drifting in and out of consciousness, Busby heard the attackers interrogating the victim in the kitchen and realized the victim had turned over the key to the basement.  Busby then heard a gunshot and passed out again.

The police showed up shortly thereafter and found the lifeless victim’s body on the floor.  An autopsy revealed he had died from a gunshot wound to his head.  Busby was in his bedroom, covered in blood from stab wounds all over his body.  He spent a week in the hospital recovering.  The defendant had fled the scene before the cops arrived and he was witnessed by a codefendant with a bloody cloth wrapped around his thigh.  The defendant said he had sustained the injury at Busby’s apartment (presumably by being stabbed with the sword).

The police eventually tracked down the defendant and arrested him.  One of his codefendant’s entered into a cooperation agreement with the Commonwealth and testified against him.  A superior court jury convicted him of first-degree murder and he appealed on numerous grounds.  The most interesting argument related to the admission of medical records from Rhode Island Hospital that supposedly related to the defendant’s treatment.

On the day following the attack (when the defendant was seen with a bloody injury to his thigh), the medical staff at Rhode Island Hospital treated a man who identified himself as “Derrick Williams” for a laceration to his thigh.  The patient provided a date of birth of 11/15/79 and said his mother’s name was Esther.  He told a nurse he was injured when he fell on a knife during a wrestling match.  When the police later caught up to the defendant and interviewed him, he gave the same date of birth and said his mother’s name was Esther.  The defendant also admitted he had used the alias “Derrick Williams” in the past (but not on the day after the attack) and a police officer saw an injury on his leg.  The defendant provided several explanations to the police for the injury, including that he had been hurt while wrestling.

At trial, the defendant moved to exclude the medical records from Rhode Island Hospital, arguing the Commonwealth had not proven he was the “Derrick Williams” who had been treated.  The judge rejected his argument and the SJC affirmed, ruling that there was a proper foundation and the trial judge had correctly instructed the jurors it was their responsibility to conclude whether the defendant was the same patient who had been treated at the hospital.  The Court also ruled it was appropriate to admit those portions of the medical records in which the patient stated he was injured when he fell onto the floor while wrestling (a similar story the defendant gave to the police to explain the injury).  The SJC determined that the statements contained in the medical records were for the purpose of treatment and, therefore, they were properly admitted.

As always, it was a bad idea for the defendant to give a statement to the police without first consulting with an attorney.  The defendant’s statement to the police was incredibly unhelpful to his defense.  It also didn’t help that while the defendant gave an alias to the medical staff, he provided his correct date of birth and the correct name of his mother (and also admitted to the police he had used the alias in the past).

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