The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed a man’s first-degree murder conviction following his trial in which it was proven he shot and killed his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Collazo.
In February of 2009, the defendant’s live-in ex-girlfriend broke up with him and immediately started dating the victim. Approximately one week after the breakup, the victim was sleeping at the apartment that had been rented to the defendant and his ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend and her children were also present at the apartment. Late at night, someone (suspected to be the defendant) knocked at the door, but nobody allowed him inside. Early the next morning, the defendant obtained a description of the victim’s car, before saying, “I’m going to get that fucker.” At around 8 a.m., the defendant’s landlord helped him get into the apartment. Once inside, the defendant found the victim sleeping in a bedroom with his ex-girlfriend and her two children. The defendant shot the victim to death and fled the scene. Law enforcement officers found the victim lying in a pool of blood and a subsequent autopsy determined the victim had died as a result of being shot four times and sustaining blunt trauma to his head. After leaving the apartment, the defendant called the same friend who provided a description of the victim’s car and admitted to the murder. The defendant then went to another friend’s house and washed his hands with bleach (to remove the blood stains) before catching a ride to New York City. A couple of weeks later, the defendant surrendered to New York City cops after learning there was a warrant for his arrest. During a police interview, the defendant initially claimed he was in New York at the time of the murder. However, at trial the defendant admitted he had beaten and shot the victim in the heat of passion. An Essex County Superior Court jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder and he appealed.
The defendant complained that the Commonwealth had improperly introduced evidence of his possession of a firearm and ammunition that were found in the apartment but not related to the crime. At trial, the prosecutor told the jury a .25 caliber semiautomatic pistol and two boxes of ammunition belonging to the defendant were located in a closet in the apartment. Spent projectiles and shell casings recovered from the crime scene were .38 caliber, which means the gun found in the closet was not used to shoot the victim. The defendant argued introduction of the gun found in the closet amounted to propensity evidence – that the defendant was not a law-abiding citizen. The Supreme Judicial Court agreed the evidence should not have been introduced to the jury. It was entirely irrelevant because the defendant had not used the gun in the closet to shoot the victim and there was no evidence the defendant had even attempted to access the weapon. Nevertheless, the Court concluded the erroneous introduction of the evidence did not present a substantial risk of a miscarriage of justice because the evidence was overwhelming that the defendant had committed first-degree murder. He told his friend before the shooting that he was going to “get that fucker” and 20 minutes later told the same friend that he had carried out the killing. Therefore, it is unreasonable to think the defendant had been unfairly prejudiced when the jury heard he owned another gun that was stored in the apartment.
As a result of the SJC’s decision, the defendant will spend the rest of his life in prison.