The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday agreed with a superior court judge that a man convicted of gunning down a Boston police detective in 1993 is entitled to a new trial. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Ellis.
After midnight on September 26, 1993, Boston police Detective John Mulligan was working a paid detail at a Walgreens store in Roslindale. The defendant stopped by the store to purchase diapers and was later identified by another shopper as having crouched near Detective Mulligan’s car (Mulligan was seen by several witnesses sleeping in his car). At approximately 3:30 a.m., Detective Mulligan died after being shot in the face five times. Witnesses told the police that men matching the description of the defendant and the defendant’s friend, who had driven him to Walgreens, were in the vicinity of Detective Mulligan’s car around the time the detective was murdered. The detective’s service weapon was missing by the time the police arrived to investigate. A few days after the murder, the defendant’s girlfriend saw him handling two guns – one turned out to be the detective’s missing service weapon and the other was the murder weapon (the murder weapon contained the fingerprint of the defendant’s girlfriend). When the only witness to identify the defendant was brought to the police station to try to pick the defendant out of a photo array, she initially selected someone else’s picture. The defendant’s friend, who had driven him to Walgreens, left fingerprints on the outside of the detective’s driver side door. The Commonwealth’s theory of the case was the defendant and his friend killed the detective and stole his gun as a trophy. The defendant’s first two trials ended in hung juries, but he was convicted of first-degree murder at his third trial.
In the years following his conviction, the defendant conducted an investigation into the misconduct of the victim and the victim’s coworkers. Two of the victim’s fellow officers (who conducted the photo array with the Commonwealth’s identification witness) were federally indicted for filing false search warrant affidavits and illegally seizing property. They were convicted of 14 federal crimes. The defendant also presented evidence that, among other things: the victim (and the aforementioned two other officers) had allegedly stolen $26,000 from a man 17 days before the victim was killed; the victim was bothering a 14-year-old girl and the girl’s father threatened to kill the victim; and the victim was allegedly involved in robbing two drug dealers of a large amount of money the year before his death. At the hearing on the defendant’s motion for a new trial, a superior court judge ruled the Boston police department had not vigorously pursued other leads into the victim’s death, and several of the officers involved in investigating the defendant had a conflict of interest (as they were allegedly involved in criminal conduct with the victim, and they would not have wanted an in-depth investigation into who might have wanted the victim to be murdered). Accordingly, the judge concluded that justice may not have been done and ordered the defendant to receive a new trial.
The Supreme Judicial Court agreed the defendant is entitled to a new trial. In addition to the police misconduct issues identified by the superior court judge, the SJC pointed out that the defendant’s trial attorneys may not have been provided with all of the relevant documents in the Commonwealth’s custody. All of these issues suggest justice may not have been done when the defendant was convicted. The District Attorney’s Office has vowed to retry the defendant for murder.