The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today affirmed the murder conviction of a man who delivered a pipe bomb to the woman he was stalking, resulting in her death. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Caruso.
The victim was a waitress at a restaurant in Medford. The defendant ate at the restaurant on a daily basis. At some point, the defendant decided he wanted the victim to become his regular waitress and he ultimately asked her on a date. She declined and the defendant became upset, creepily staring at the victim as she worked. The defendant began to stalk the victim and twice poured battery acid into the gas tank of her car. He was charged with malicious destruction of property and sentenced to jail. He was also charged with slashing the victim’s tires. In January of 2000, the defendant delivered a package containing a pipe bomb to the victim’s apartment in Everett. When the victim opened the package, the bomb exploded and inflicted fatal injuries upon her. The cops immediately suspected the defendant’s involvement, given his history of stalking the victim. The defendant gave conflicting stories regarding his whereabouts on the morning of the murder. The police obtained a warrant to search the defendant’s home and found pipe fragments, wire, gunpowder, and batteries that were consistent with the bombing materials found in the victim’s apartment. In the defendant’s bedroom, the police found documents containing the victim’s date of birth, social security number, and information about the victim’s prior boyfriends and family members. A search of the defendant’s computer established he had searched for information about the victim’s family history. A superior court jury convicted the defendant of first-degree murder and he advanced several arguments on appeal.
The most interesting issue was whether the trial judge had properly allowed a jailhouse informant to testify about statements the defendant made while in custody. The informant had recognized the defendant from his picture in the newspaper and began asking him questions about the crime, with the intention of telling the police what the defendant said. The defendant made several statements that implicated him in the crime (including that he had delivered the bomb to the victim’s apartment). The informant passed along the defendant’s statements to a state trooper who he had worked with in the past (the informant was somewhat of a professional witness, having testified on behalf of the Commonwealth in two prior murder cases). The defendant moved to suppress the statements, arguing the informant was acting as a government agent and had obtained statements from him without the presence of his attorney (in violation of the state and federal constitutions). The SJC ruled the informant was not a government agent as he asked the defendant questions about the crime. The police did not ask the informant to attempt to obtain statements from the defendant. Although the informant hoped to later curry favor with the police by assisting in the defendant’s prosecution, an agency relationship was not created without the participation of the government. Accordingly, the informant’s testimony about the defendant’s admissions was properly admitted at trial and the defendant’s conviction was upheld.