The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today upheld the first-degree murder conviction of a man who was convicted with the help of an ill-advised statement he made to the police. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Williams.
In 2010, the defendant told his boss at the tomato processing plant he worked at in Connecticut that he needed to leave work to participate in a drug deal. The defendant left work and was picked up by William Jones, who was soon to be murdered. The men drove to a house in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the victim (who was a drug dealer) thought he was buying drugs from a friend of the defendant. However, the defendant knew the plan was for the victim to be robbed. After introducing the victim to his friend inside the house, the defendant went outside to act as a lookout. The defendant heard a scuffle and the sound of a stun gun from inside of the house, and his friend then dragged the victim outside and loaded him into the back of the victim’s vehicle. The defendant drove the vehicle to a Connecticut grocery store parking lot and left the victim there, as he (the defendant) returned to work. The defendant told his coworkers he had made money on the drug deal and he gave $10 to his supervisor and a coworker. He also offered to buy his coworkers lunch and he flashed several thousand dollars in cash. The victim’s body was found in his vehicle the following day and the medical examiner determined he had been strangled to death. The defendant’s DNA was found in the victim’s vehicle.
Three days after the murder, Connecticut police officers showed up at the defendant’s job to interview him. In Connecticut, it is legal for cops to secretly record conversations with suspects, and an officer audio recorded his conversation with the defendant. The defendant lied to the cops and said the victim had never picked him up at work. When he was later confronted with video surveillance showing the victim picking him up, the defendant changed his story several times and eventually admitted he set up the victim to be robbed. He told the police he was acting as a lookout and admitted to driving the victim to the grocery store parking lot after the crime. Some time later, the defendant was arrested and charged with first-degree murder (on a joint venture theory) in Massachusetts. After a superior court jury convicted him, the defendant appealed.
Among the defendant’s several appellate arguments, he complained that the statements he made to the Connecticut cops should have been suppressed. Had a Massachusetts police officer secretly audio taped a conversation with the defendant, the defendant’s statements would have been suppressed because the Massachusetts wiretap statute prohibits the secret recording of conversations. However, the Supreme Judicial Court pointed out that the police departments of other states are permitted to use any investigatory procedures that are lawful in their home states. Therefore, because it is legal in Connecticut for an officer to secretly record a conversation with a defendant, it was proper to allow the statement to be admitted against the defendant (even where the trial was in Massachusetts).
This case is another reminder that it is never, ever a good idea for a suspect to speak to the police. Even witnesses to a crime should not provide statements to the police without first consulting with an experienced criminal defense attorney. If the defendant here had kept his mouth shut, the Commonwealth might not have had enough evidence to convict him of a crime. Instead, the defendant made a series of very damaging statements that will result in him spending the rest of his life in prison.