Homicide trials, especially those that appear to be gang-related, can garner a large amount of publicity. This exposure can place a lot of pressure on prosecutors to “win” a conviction and look good in the public eye. Although trials are not meant to be a spectacle purposed to make prosecutors look effective and tough on crime, this is the reality of the criminal justice system in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Supreme Court recently heard an appeal by two defendants that challenged their convictions for gang-related second-degree murder.
The defendants in the recently decided case were charged with conspiring to shoot and kill a coworker. The victim was a member of a known gang, and the defendants were alleged to be members of a rival gang. Before the shooting, the defendants communicated by text message that the victim would be in a certain place at a certain time, and the defendants allegedly planned to meet each other at that place and intimidate or assault the victim. According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, a man later identified as one of the defendants traveled by train to the area the victim was working, shot him in the head and fled the scene. After a chase, the shooter was apprehended and later arrested and charged with murder. The second defendant was later arrested and charged based on the text message communications between him and the other defendant, allegedly planning the murder.
Both defendants were charged with first-degree murder for the crime.
Against the objection of the non-shooter defendant, both defendants were tried together at one trial. After the close of arguments at trial, a jury convicted both defendants of second-degree murder and they were sentenced for their crimes. Both defendants appealed their convictions on various grounds. The non-shooting defendant appealed the denial of his motion to sever the trials, arguing that trying him together with the defendant who shot and killed the victim was unfairly prejudicial to his case.
On appeal, the high court rejected the second defendant’s arguments, finding that trying the defendants together in this particular instance was justified. The court ruled that co-defendants in a crime only have a right to sever the trials against them in the event that their defenses are mutually antagonistic, meaning that the acceptance of one party’s defense would preclude the capital of the other. Because the second defendant’s defense was that there was a miscommunication between him and the shooter (and that he never intended the victim to be murdered), and the shooter’s defense was that he was misidentified as the shooter, the court found no error in trying the defendants together, as their defenses could both be accepted by a jury contemporaneously. All of both defendants’ other arguments were also rejected by the high court, and their convictions will stand.
Have You Been Charged with a Gang-Related Crime in Massachusetts?
If you or someone you know has been charged with a gang-related crime, prosecutors will try and use any tactic they can to get a conviction, even if the tactics unfairly prejudice you in fighting the charges brought against you. Hiring a qualified Boston criminal defense attorney from the Law Office of Patrick J. Murphy can prevent you from being treated unfairly in the pretrial process, and our skilled attorneys can make a strong case for your acquittal if a trial is necessary. Attorney Patrick J. Murphy represents clients facing many Massachusetts charges, including gang-related crimes. Contact our office at 617-367-0450 to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a Boston criminal defense attorney.