The Massachusetts Appeals Court today affirmed the second-degree murder conviction of a man who shot to death his enemy in March of 2010. The name of the case is Commonwealth v. Blanchard.
According to multiple news reports from the time of the killing, the defendant, who was then 21 years old, was involved in an ongoing feud with the 21-year-old victim. According to the defendant, the victim had slashed his father’s car’s tires, broken into the defendant’s house, and threatened to kill the defendant’s family. Four months before his death, the victim had been charged with assault and battery with a dangerous weapon and intimidation of a witness for holding a knife to the throat of the defendant’s girlfriend. In response, the defendant went to the victim’s apartment in the middle of the night and fired nine shots from a 9mm Smith & Wesson into his bedroom window. The victim was struck and killed while lying in his bed. When police told the defendant the victim had died, the defendant said he had not intended to kill anyone. However, he also allegedly told the police he was “glad [the victim] was dead.”
The defendant went to trial in Norfolk Superior Court in June of 2013. Following his convictions for second-degree murder and illegally possessing a gun, the defendant appealed. His primary argument on appeal involved the jury’s exposure to items that were not introduced as exhibits at the trial. After the closing arguments and judge’s instructions of law, the jury retired to deliberate. After the jurors reached a verdict but before it was announced in court, a court officer realized a three-ring binder had been mistakenly given to the jury to review. Inside the binder were copies of pretrial motions that contained documents and photographs that had been excluded from trial. There also were transcripts of the defendant’s phone calls from jail, some of which had not been presented to the jury.
The judge decided to privately question each juror about his or her exposure to the binder. Some of the jurors told the judge they had looked through the binder. When the judge asked them if they could disregard what they had seen in the binder and deliver verdicts that were based solely on the evidence that had been admitted at trial, the jurors said they could. Therefore, the judge ordered the jury to begin its deliberations again and ignore whatever it was that had been seen in the binder. Following their additional deliberations, the jurors convicted the defendant of second-degree murder.
The Appeals Court upheld the defendant’s conviction, ruling the trial judge followed the correct procedure by questioning the jurors individually to determine if they had been influenced by the contents of the binder. It was also proper for the judge to instruct the jury to start their deliberations over again without considering any of the documents contained in the binder.
While the trial judge followed proper protocol, it’s hard to accept the jurors would not have factored the documents in the binder in their deliberations.