The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the conviction against a man who beat to death his six-month-old son in a Chicopee apartment in 2009. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Goitia.
The defendant’s girlfriend gave birth to his son in January of 2009, and she moved with the baby to an apartment in Chicopee. The defendant did not visit the baby regularly, and after the baby was hospitalized for bruises and injuries to his body in February, the Department of Children and Families removed him from the girlfriend’s care. There was evidence presented at the trial that the baby was typically happy, but in the presence of the defendant he screamed, cried, and appeared to be in distress. On the date of his death, the defendant and the girlfriend, who had taken custody of the baby, decided to leave the him in the girlfriend’s apartment and walk to the liquor store. The defendant walked upstairs to the girlfriend’s apartment to put the baby in his crib. He was alone with the baby for several minutes and the baby never made another noise after the defendant joined the girlfriend for the walk to the liquor store. Witnesses testified the defendant appeared agitated at the liquor store and “antsy” when he returned to the girlfriend’s apartment. A couple of hours later, the girlfriend’s father drove to the girlfriend’s apartment and found that the baby was not breathing. One of the neighbors began performing CPR on the baby and the girlfriend’s father drove the baby, the defendant, and the girlfriend to the hospital. During the ride, the defendant expressed concern about being blamed for the situation (because he had been drinking). The baby was pronounced dead shortly after arriving at the hospital and a subsequent autopsy determined he had suffered two blunt force traumatic injuries to his brain. Evidence established the injuries were inflicted on the evening the baby died. A Springfield Superior Court jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder and he appealed.
The defendant’s primary appellate argument involved the performance of his trial attorney. Prior to the defendant’s trial, his girlfriend, who had also been charged with murder, entered into a cooperation agreement with the prosecutor. She agreed to testify against the defendant, and in exchange the Commonwealth agreed to “review” her case after the defendant’s trial. Two days after the defendant was convicted, the Commonwealth dismissed the murder charge against the girlfriend. The Commonwealth provided a copy of the cooperation agreement to the defense attorney prior to the trial, but the defense attorney failed to ask the girlfriend about it during the trial. The Supreme Judicial Court concluded the attorney’s failure to inquire about the cooperation agreement during the cross-examination of the girlfriend was error. However, because the evidence against the defendant was overwhelming, the SJC ruled the attorney’s error did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice. Even if the mother’s testimony was not considered at all, the remaining evidence overwhelmingly established the defendant’s guilt according to the SJC. Because the error did not impact the jury’s decision, the SJC allowed the verdict to stand and the defendant will spend the rest of his life in prison.