Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Upholds Murder Conviction in Killing of Springfield Drug Dealer

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday affirmed a man’s conviction for shooting to death a Springfield drug dealer in March of 2010.  The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Moore

At the time of the murder, the victim lived with a roommate and the roommate’s three-year-old child.  The victim was a drug dealer and she kept a large amount of cash in a strongbox in her apartment.  On March 22, 2010, a masked black man armed with a gun (later identified as the defendant) came into the apartment and fired a bullet into the floor, causing the victim’s roommate to flee with her child.  The victim stayed behind and a physical struggle ensued between her and the defendant.  The roommate ran to a neighbor’s house and after seeing the defendant and another man (also wearing a mask) leave the area, she returned to her apartment and found the victim suffering from two gunshot wounds.  One of the bullets entered the back of the victim’s head and killed her.

Prior to the murder, the defendant and his coconspirator were seen by multiple witnesses walking around the victim’s neighborhood.  Three college students who lived in a house next door to the victim’s apartment saw the defendant walking in their backyard.  When they asked the defendant what he was doing, he responded that he was hiding out in their backyard and asked if they had a problem.  Other witnesses provided a description of the van the defendant was driving and within a few hours, Springfield police officers located the van with the defendant in the driver’s seat.  The defendant blurted out that his passenger was his little brother, and “he had nothing to do with what happened earlier.”  The defendant was arrested and handcuffed and the police conducted a series of showup identification procedures.  A showup identification involves a witness being shown one individual and being asked if he was the person involved in the crime.  A showup is different than a photo array, where a witness is shown multiple photographs of possible suspects and asked to identify the perpetrator.  In this case, the defendant was handcuffed behind his back and officers stood on either side of him and illuminated his face with flashlights.  Several of the eyewitnesses positively identified the defendant and his van.  Forensic analysis later confirmed the presence of the victim’s DNA on the defendant’s shirt and inside his van.  After a Springfield Superior Court jury found the defendant guilty of first-degree murder, he appealed.

One the defendant’s primary appellate arguments was that the showup identification procedure was unnecessarily suggestive and should not have been admitted into evidence.  The Supreme Judicial Court and the Appeals Court have long held that showup identifications are disfavored.  It is more likely a suspect will be misidentified when he is standing alone, surrounded by police officers and handcuffed near the scene of a crime.  However, while showup identifications are disfavored, they are very often upheld by appellate courts in Massachusetts.  Such was the case here.  The SJC concluded there was a good reason to conduct the showup and the identification procedure was not so unnecessarily suggestive to create a substantial risk that the defendant would be misidentified.   The Court pointed out that the police were investigating a violent crime and had not found the gun that was involved.  There was a public safety concern.  The showup happened close in time to the crime and the showup sought to eliminate the concern that the suspect would escape identification.  Therefore, the results of the identification procedure were properly shared with the jury.

The defendant will now spend the rest of his life in prison.