The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday rejected a convicted murderer’s plea for a new trial, concluding that the prosecutor presented sufficient evidence for his conviction. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Andrade.
The defendant was riding in an SUV that stopped outside a Brockton house on April 4, 2011. An argument ensued between the defendant and a man who was hanging out near the house. The defendant was overheard saying he would “go and come back” before leaving in the SUV. Around half an hour later, someone shot a gun near where the argument had occurred. Police responded and found the victim lying on the house’s porch, suffering from a gunshot wound to his head. He died shortly thereafter at a hospital. Surveillance video captured two people approaching the murder scene and reaching toward their waistbands. A witness named Antonio Silva saw two people running away, including the defendant was who holding a revolver as he fled. A baseball hat that was found lying on the street in front of the porch where the victim was killed contained the defendant’s DNA. When he was interviewed by the police a few days after the murder, the defendant admitted to riding in the SUV that stopped near the house but said he was not present when the victim was shot. About a week and a half later, the defendant left the country for almost a year. When he returned, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder. A Plymouth County superior court jury found the defendant guilty and he appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed.
The defendant’s primary appellate issue involved the Commonwealth’s introduction of grand jury testimony to help establish the defendant was the shooter. There were four percipient witnesses who testified before the grand jury about the events of the day of the shooting, and who then claimed at the trial that they didn’t remember either: their grand jury testimony; or what they witnessed at the murder scene. The trial judge found that three of the four witnesses were feigning memory loss (because they did not want to offer damaging testimony against the defendant). When a trial witness feigns memory loss, the Commonwealth is entitled to introduce the substance of his grand jury testimony as substantive evidence if: (1) the grand jury testimony is clearly that of the witness (and not the questioner); (2) the statement was not coerced; (3) the defendant had an opportunity to effectively cross-examine the witness during the trial; and (4) there was other evidence that corroborated the grand jury testimony. In this case, the Supreme Judicial Court found the prosecutor had satisfied the foundational requirements for admitting the grand jury testimony as substantive evidence. The witnesses’ grand jury testimony was corroborated by the surveillance video, the hat containing the defendant’s DNA, and the defendant’s admission that he had been at the murder scene prior to the shooting. It is relatively common for witnesses to become skittish prior to a trial, especially if the charges are as serious as they were here. Allowing a prosecutor to prove a case by way of grand jury testimony ensures that criminal defendants will not unjustly benefit from the fear of eyewitnesses.