The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today upheld the murder conviction against a Somerville man who killed an Everett stripper he had previously dated. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Ferreira.
The defendant and the victim had been in a dating relationship but broke up around April of 2009. They continued to spend time together and the defendant was also friendly with the victim’s sisters, who, along with the victim, worked as strippers in clubs in Chelsea and Stoughton. After the victim broke up with the defendant, she began dating a married man named Oliver and the defendant became despondent. On the evening the victim was murdered, the defendant was in his Somerville apartment with his roommate. Before the roommate went to sleep, he noticed the defendant was lying in his bed fully dressed. Meanwhile, the victim was working a shift at the Stoughton strip club. Surveillance cameras recorded her driving home between 1:00 and 2:00 in the morning. Around the same time, surveillance cameras recorded a person who appeared to be the defendant leaving Somerville, driving in the direction of the victim’s apartment, and then returning to Somerville and parking near the defendant’s apartment. Shortly before 2:00 a.m., two of the victim’s neighbors heard a woman screaming and one of the neighbors saw a man matching the description of the defendant jogging away from the victim’s apartment building. A couple hours later, another of the victim’s neighbors was emptying his trash and found the victim’s body outside of the building. She had been stabbed 17 times in the torso and had numerous other cuts and puncture wounds on her body. One of the victim’s sisters told the police to consider the defendant a suspect.
The police caught up with the defendant later that day and requested he accompany them to the Everett Police Department. The defendant agreed and the cops noticed he had injuries on the backs of his hands. Accordingly, the police arranged for a forensic scientist to swab the defendant’s hands for the presence of nonvisible blood. After the swab, the defendant was permitted to leave the station. Subsequent analysis determined the victim was a possible contributor to blood found on the back of both of the defendant’s hands. The police obtained a warrant to search the defendant’s apartment and vehicles and recovered additional incriminating evidence, including a pair of sneakers containing blood that matched the victim’s DNA profile. A Middlesex County superior court jury convicted the defendant of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison.
The defendant asserted on appeal that a superior court judge had improperly denied his motion to suppress evidence related to the swabbing of his hands at the police station. The swabs were taken without a warrant and without the defendant’s consent. The SJC concluded the search was permissible under the exigency exception to the warrant requirement. The exigency exception applies to a situation where the police have probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and evidence may be lost or destroyed if it is not immediately collected. In this case, the Court concluded the Commonwealth had established probable cause to believe the defendant was involved in the victim’s murder at the time the swabs were taken. The defendant was upset about the end of the relationship and the victim’s sister told the police the defendant had been stalking the victim. The defendant had allegedly made threats about killing the victim. A car resembling the defendant’s was seen on surveillance driving toward the victim’s apartment around the time of the murder. And, finally, the defendant had cuts on his hand suggesting he might have been involved in a physical altercation. If the defendant had been allowed to leave the police station, any forensic evidence on his hands would likely have been washed away. Therefore, pursuant to the exigency exception to the warrant requirement, it was proper for the police to take swabs of the defendant’s hands.
The defendant will now spend the rest of his life in prison.