The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the conviction of a man who gunned down a Jamaica Plain convenience store clerk in 2009. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Corliss.
A jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery while masked, and illegal possession of a gun.
On December 26, 2009, a customer entered a convenience store on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain and found the victim lying on the floor behind the counter, gasping for air. Paramedics arrived shortly thereafter and transported the victim to the hospital where he died of a gunshot wound to his chest. The police obtained the surveillance video taken inside and outside of the store and saw a white motor vehicle stop near the store immediately before the murder. A person wearing a hat and a bulky coat, and carrying a backpack, walked to the car and talked to the driver. The car then pulled away. Approximately eleven minutes later, a person who appeared to be the same person who had spoken to the driver of the white car entered the store. He put down his backpack and pointed a gun at the victim, who raised his arms. At the direction of the robber, the victim filled the backpack with money from the register. The robber then shot the victim and ran from the store, apparently fleeing in the same white car.
The investigating police officers attempted to enhance the surveillance video to identify the license plate number of the white car that was involved in the crime, but the image was too blurry. However, the cops showed pictures of the car to automobile experts who identified the vehicle as a Plymouth Acclaim manufactured between 1989 and 1995. The car had after-market hubcaps and a defective rear window brake light. The Registry of Motor Vehicles provided a list of white Plymouth Acclaims manufactured between 1989 and 1995 and registered in Massachusetts. One of those vehicles was registered to the defendant’s wife. Police conducted surveillance of the defendant’s wife’s vehicle and saw the defendant riding in the passenger seat. A subsequent search pursuant to a warrant revealed details that were consistent with the defendant’s wife’s car and the car captured in the video surveillance.
As is often the case, the defendant then became his own worst enemy. On the night of the murder, the defendant told his brother he had “pulled a score” and killed a man. He later told a fellow inmate (while being held without bail before his trial) that he had intended to rob the store, had shot a man, had used his wife’s car, and had gotten rid of the gun near Revere Beach. The police later found the gun used in the murder on Revere Beach. The defendant told another inmate that he was wearing a wig and a puffy outfit while robbing the store and that he had shot and killed the clerk. The defendant also asked that inmate to kill his wife when he was released from jail, as he (the defendant) did not want any possible witnesses to testify against him.
The defendant raised a number of appellate issued that were each rejected by the Supreme Judicial Court. He first complained that he did not receive appropriate access to the “view” taken by the jury. In many murder cases, the judge and the attorneys take the jurors on a field trip to view the scene of the crime. In this case, the defendant wanted to go on the identical view as the jury, but at a different time. The trial judge rejected his request, but allowed him to follow the jurors in a separate vehicle (apparently unknown to the jurors) and view the same places the jurors were viewing. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that such an arrangement was appropriate, particularly given the defendant’s alleged plan to escape from custody and his reference to killing prison guards.
The defendant also appealed the trial judge’s decision to allow his friend to testify about his prior handling of a gun. The friend testified that approximately 16 months before the murder, he saw the defendant load a gun with bullets. When shown a picture of the gun found by police on Revere Beach, the friend said it was similar in size and shape to the gun he saw the defendant handle. The trial judge ruled, and the SJC agreed, that the evidence was relevant to show that the defendant had access to a gun and the knowledge of how to use it. The trial judge reasoned that while the friend’s observations had been made 16 months before the murder, the evidence was still relevant because once the defendant knew how to operate a gun, he would keep that knowledge over time.
The combination of really good police work and a defendant who apparently couldn’t keep his mouth shut was the story of this case. As always, anybody who is being questioned by the police or charged with a crime should not say anything to anybody other than his or her attorney.