Monday, April 27, 2009

Conviction Affirmed For Murder Of Priest

A decision today from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the conviction of a defendant already serving a life sentence who had murdered a priest convicted of child molestation. The defendant is described as follows:

The defendant founded his own ministry and church, in 2000, after a correspondence course. He designed a crest for his Church of the Chosen Ones, obtained a trademark and copyright, and wrote his own Bible. He fantasized that the Pope would make him "Saint Joseph." He stated that, before the killing, he wrote a document that was found in his cell; it stated that his mind was racing and he could not read or concentrate. He testified that this mental state commenced at the time he overheard the victim talking about a plan to abuse children by starting a mission in South America. The defendant testified that he spoke to a prison deacon about his concerns and was told that the victim could start a ministry under any religion. The defendant could not get these concerns out of his mind. During a period in the disciplinary unit in the days preceding the killing, the defendant wrote a document that contained statements that the world wants to stop pedophilia, the victims of sexual abuse want justice, Saint Joseph would do it, and the Pope would be pleased.

On the day of the killing, the defendant had planned to enter the victim's cell earlier than he did, but there were too many inmates around. At first he thought that "God didn't want it to happen," but then the correction officer opened all the cell doors after lunch. The defendant fantasized that the Pope would give him absolution. The defendant testified that he saw himself as the individual designated, by a higher power, to put a stop to pedophilia. He stated that when he was killing the victim, he was thinking about his own abuse and the victim's arrogance.

The court rejected a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel:

The defendant has not met his burden of showing that substantial conduct or omission by his counsel likely influenced the jury's decision. As the judge stated in his written decision, the defense in this case was lack of criminal responsibility. The evidence that the defendant was guilty of the murder was overwhelming, even apart from his statements, "to anyone and everyone" who would listen, that he did it and was proud of it. The defendant was the only one in the victim's cell; he had jammed the door shut; the victim was lying on the floor with a ligature around his neck that was made in part with the defendant's own articles of clothing. The defendant claims "that additional evidence should have been adduced from correction department officers and officials, as well as through or by a post-death investigation conducted by an ad hoc commission." We agree with the judge that "[w]ith the exception of his complaint that his attorney failed to introduce records or call other witnesses who may have offered testimony about his psychiatric history, none of his other complaints ... have any relevance to the issues material to the trial of this case." Moreover, as the judge stated, the defendant, his parents, and expert "were given wide latitude in their testimony concerning his past social and psychiatric history, which history was largely uncontested by the Commonwealth.... His expert was permitted to testify without limitation, to the defendant's history and the contents of any and all records of past psychological placements, examinations, observations, and diagnoses ... for support of his opinion testimony concerning the mental state of the defendant on the day of the offense." The judge's conclusion that the evidence material to his defense that the defendant claims should have been offered is cumulative or speculative is supported in the record. There was no abuse of discretion.

The case is Commonwealth v. Druce. (Mike Frisch)

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