The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday affirmed a defendant’s first-degree murder conviction after he stabbed his friend 69 times with a knife. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Deconinck.
On August 24, 2013, the defendant and the victim were socializing in a Revere trailer home where the victim had been living. A neighbor stopped by the trailer to ask the victim for help in moving a heavy object and found the victim’s body lying on the kitchen floor. He called the police and officers located the victim lying in a pool of blood. There was blood all over the kitchen and the victim was holding a detached blade from a knife in his hand. The victim died shortly after he was assaulted, and an autopsy concluded he sustained 69 stab wounds all over his body. Three of the wounds were deep enough to have killed him. Officers located the defendant at a nearby subway station. The defendant was covered in blood, was unsteady on his feet, and was acting erratically. He was bleeding from his own stab wound (located on his lower right leg) and threatened to kill the officers and EMTs. The defendant was taken into custody and transported to the hospital. The trial evidence established the defendant was under the influence of alcohol and had ingested cocaine and prescription medication prior to the killing. The defendant acknowledged killing the victim, but said he had been acting in self-defense. A Suffolk Superior Court jury convicted the defendant of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison. He appealed and the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the conviction.
The most interesting of the defendant’s appellate arguments involved the videotaped statement of an eyewitness to the beginning of the fight between the defendant and the victim. The owner of the trailer home, John Fay, gave a recorded statement to the police following the defendant’s arrest. However, Fay died unexpectedly before the trial started. The defendant sought to introduce Fay’s videotaped statement to the jury. The trial judge refused to allow the statement to be presented to the jury because it constituted inadmissible hearsay. The defendant argued that the statement qualified as a constitutionally-based exception to the hearsay rule that had been recognized by the Supreme Judicial Court just a few months ago. According to the defendant, Fay’s statement bore an indicia of reliability, was crucial to his defense, and was contemporaneous with the incident. The defendant argued that by refusing to allow him to admit the statement at trial, the trial judge had deprived him of his right to present a defense. In upholding the trial judge’s decision, the SJC pointed out that the constitutionally-based exception to the hearsay rule does not apply to the vast majority of cases, including the defendant’s. Importantly, Fay’s videotaped statement was not critical to the defendant’s case. Other evidence established the victim: had been drunk and belligerent prior to the fight; was so disruptive that other guests had left the trailer home prior to the killing; and had pushed one of the guests to the floor. Further, the videotaped statement was not trustworthy because Fay later testified before the grand jury that he had lied to the police because he was scared and in shock following the murder. Accordingly, the trial judge had properly prohibited the statement from being introduced at trial. The defendant will now spend the rest of his life in prison.