Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Malden Murder Conviction

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday affirmed the first-degree murder conviction of a Malden man who strangled his girlfriend to death in their apartment in 2012.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Moseley

The defendant and the victim had dated for about five years but their relationship was deteriorating.  The defendant moved into a second bedroom in their apartment before deciding he should move out altogether.  On August 9, 2012, the defendant packed his belongings into a suitcase and left the apartment.  He wanted to move in with a friend named Tuesday Reeves, but she explained it wouldn’t be possible because it would complicate matters with a man she was dating.  On the day he moved out of the apartment he shared with the victim, the defendant pleaded with Reeves to allow him to live with her, and she refused.  The defendant took a late train from Cambridge to Malden and returned to the victim’s apartment shortly before midnight.  The victim was irritated the defendant had returned.  He used the landline telephone in the victim’s apartment to call Reeves and said the victim was going crazy because he had returned.  Reeves also spoke to the victim during the evening and she could hear the defendant in the background becoming louder and angrier.  The victim sounded upset and told Reeves she was sick of the defendant’s shit and intended to call the police if he touched her.  The victim wanted the defendant to leave and suggested he go to Reeves’ house, but Reeves again said the defendant was not welcome to stay with her.  After the phone calls ended, the defendant entered the victim’s bedroom and a verbal argument quickly turned physical.  The victim hit the defendant in the face with a phone and the defendant ripped the phone cord from the wall.  During the ensuing physical struggle, the defendant twice twisted the victim’s tank top around her neck.  After a few minutes, the victim became unresponsive and her body went limp.  Four to five hours later, the defendant called 911 and told the police he had killed the victim by strangling her.  At trial, the defendant argued he had inadvertently strangled the victim and, accordingly, he should be convicted of manslaughter instead of murder.  A Middlesex County superior court jury disagreed and found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder.  The defendant appealed and the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed.

On appeal, the defendant argued the trial judge had improperly allowed the Commonwealth to introduce a series of hearsay statements made by the victim.  On the day the victim was killed, she made statements to various friends that the defendant “was gone” and had then returned, and that it had been her understanding that the defendant had permanently moved out of the apartment.  She also told Reeves that she would not leave her own apartment.  The SJC concluded the statements were properly admitted under a hearsay exception that allows evidence of a murder victim’s state of mind as proof of the defendant’s motive to kill the victim.  In this case, the victim’s statements to her friends expressed her continued dissatisfaction with her relationship with the defendant and her frustration with the defendant’s presence in her apartment.  Because the defendant was present in the apartment during at least some of the victim’s statements (and could be heard by Reeves in the background), the jury could have concluded he knew about the victim’s state of mind.  Accordingly, the victim’s statements were probative of the defendant’s motive or intent to harm the victim.  Accordingly, the statements had been properly admitted against the defendant.

The SJC rejected the defendant’s remaining appellate arguments, which means he will spend the remainder of his life in state prison.  This isn’t the first problem the defendant had with a romantic partner – according to media reports, shortly before he began dating the victim, he had been released from prison after serving a lengthy sentence for shooting his former wife in the face.