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Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Fall River Man’s Murder Conviction After it Took More than Two Decades to Charge Him

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed a Fall River man’s conviction for murdering his neighbor in 1988.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Tavares.

The victim disappeared in October of 1988.  At the time she had been living with her boyfriend in Fall River and the defendant lived across the street with his mother and another roommate.  Nobody was initially charged with a crime related to the victim’s disappearance.  In 1991, the defendant killed his mother and was sentenced to 17-20 years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter.  While he was locked up in 2000, the defendant wrote to a Bristol County prosecutor and offered to disclose the location of the victim’s body if the Commonwealth offered a reduced sentence for her killing.  A detective interviewed the defendant, who said he walked into his house and discovered the victim’s boyfriend’s brother had stabbed and killed her in the defendant’s house.  The defendant said he did not witness the stabbing.  The defendant ordered the victim’s body to be removed from his house and other people buried her in the backyard.  The police used the defendant’s information to dig up his backyard, where the skeletal remains of the victim were discovered.  An autopsy determined homicide was the cause of death.  Also discovered in the defendant’s old bedroom was a bloodstained section of the floor, and the defendant’s ex-girlfriend told the police she witnessed the defendant cleaning what appeared to be a bloodstain from the carpet at some point in October of 1988.  The defendant changed his story in 2002, saying that he actually saw the victim being stabbed by her boyfriend’s brother.  The defendant was not charged with a crime at that point.

The defendant wrapped up his manslaughter sentence in 2007 and moved to Washington State, where he promptly killed two more people and was jailed once again.  In 2012, the defendant admitted to a Massachusetts detective that he had murdered the victim because she had stolen cocaine from him.  The defendant said he had repeatedly stabbed the victim in his bedroom (causing her blood to soak the floor) and then buried her body in his backyard.  The defendant said he was confessing because there had been a book published about the murder that suggested he had “ratted” on another witness, and he didn’t want to be known as a rat in prison.  The defendant confessed to the murder to multiple other people.  He was indicted for murdering the victim in 2013 and went on trial in 2015, where he argued he had falsely confessed to the murder to avoid being labeled a “rat” while serving a prison sentence.  A Bristol County superior court jury convicted the defendant and the judge sentenced him to life in prison.

On appeal, the defendant argued that he should not have been convicted because of the legal principle that says if the evidence equally supports two inconsistent propositions, then neither proposition has been established.  The defendant said that he had made two statements – one implicating himself in the murder and the other implicating the victim’s brother’s boyfriend in the murder.  The defendant asserted that the evidence equally supported each statement and since they couldn’t both be true, then neither had been proven.  The Supreme Judicial Court disagreed.  The Court concluded the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming, and there was plenty of corroborating evidence to support the defendant’s confession.  After all, the victim’s body was buried in the defendant’s back yard and there was dried blood in his former bedroom.  The defendant’s then-girlfriend had seen him cleaning what appeared to be a bloodstain in his room.  Further, the defendant’s former roommate saw blood on the defendant’s shirt (which had been thrown in the washing machine) and there was a shovel and a pitchfork near the basement door which led to the backyard where the victim was buried.  The defendant also had a motive to kill the victim, after learning she had stolen cocaine from him.  It was reasonable, therefore, for the jury to find the defendant guilty and his conviction was affirmed.

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