Com. v. Davis

Citation13 Mass.App.Ct. 179,431 N.E.2d 251
PartiesCOMMONWEALTH v. George S. DAVIS et al. 1
Decision Date10 February 1982
CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts

Page 251

431 N.E.2d 251
13 Mass.App.Ct. 179

George S. DAVIS et al. 1
Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.
Argued Oct. 20, 1981.
Decided Feb. 10, 1982.

Page 253

[13 Mass.App.Ct. 180] William P. Homans, Jr., Boston, for George S. Davis.

Michael B. Roitman, Asst. Atty. Gen., for the Commonwealth.

James F. Sullivan, Boston, for Dennis Liakos.

Before [13 Mass.App.Ct. 179] DREBEN, CUTTER and SMITH, JJ.

[13 Mass.App.Ct. 180] DREBEN, Justice.

In these appeals from their convictions and from the denial of their motions for a new trial, the defendants claim numerous errors. They were found guilty after a jury waived trial of participation in conspiracies wilfully and maliciously to cause a dwelling house to be burned and to do so with intent to defraud or injure the insurer. We affirm. The facts will be related as necessary in discussing the defendants' various claims and, where relevant, we shall distinguish between the errors urged at trial and on the motions for a new trial.

1. Claims of prosecutorial misconduct with respect to Francis Fraine. George Lincoln, a self-described contract arsonist and the principal witness for the Commonwealth, testified at trial that he had been introduced to the defendant Davis by Francis Fraine, a wiring inspector for the city of Boston; that he had discussed the burning of certain property on Symphony Road in Boston with Davis and Liakos; and that he had set three fires at 37-41-43 Symphony Road, Boston, for Fraine and the defendants Davis and Liakos. Fraine had testified before the grand jury, after having been given statutory immunity, but he was not called as a witness at trial by the Commonwealth. In his grand jury testimony, Fraine testified that he had introduced Lincoln to Davis as a potential purchaser of Davis's Symphony Road property; that he and Lincoln alone had arranged for the burning of the property; and that he, Fraine, had never discussed the burning with either Davis or Liakos. The defendants, through discovery, obtained Fraine's grand jury testimony and called him as a witness for the defense.

1a. Claims of suppression and late disclosure of exculpatory evidence. We discuss first the defendants' contentions [13 Mass.App.Ct. 181] (1) that despite specific requests for Fraine's statements to the prosecution, 2 the Commonwealth failed to inform the defendants that Fraine "had changed his version of crucial events" from that given by him to the grand jury and (2) that the prosecution informed the defendants, only after the trial had commenced, that Fraine would "contradict in every material aspect Lincoln's testimony as it pertains to the alleged guilt of these defendants."

A comparison of Fraine's trial and grand jury testimony reveals that his testimony on both occasions was consistent in all material respects. Two differences were shown to be known to the Commonwealth prior to trial, and neither was of any consequence. One was the sequence in which Fraine had introduced four persons (claimed by him to be potential purchasers of the Symphony Road properties) to Davis, and the second was Fraine's assertion to the grand jury that he did not "socialize" with Liakos, while at trial he testified to certain associations with Liakos which could be taken as "socializing".

The defendants do not seriously argue that the difference in testimony as to these two items is significant. They emphasize, however, that Fraine's testimony at trial varied from the grand jury testimony in another respect which, they claim, is important. Both at trial and before the grand jury, Fraine discussed a meeting held at Davis's office. Fraine had brought Lincoln there to introduce him to Liakos so that the latter could represent Lincoln in a criminal motor vehicle matter. When Fraine was

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asked at the time of the grand jury hearing whether Lincoln had spoken with Davis at that time, he answered, "I believe he just said 'hi'." 3 [13 Mass.App.Ct. 182] At trial he testified that Lincoln and Liakos were not present during a conversation between Fraine and Davis, because Lincoln and Liakos were conferring together in another room. He also said at trial that Lincoln at no time told him during that period that he had had a meeting with George Davis. Contrary to the defendants' reading of the transcript, we do not consider Fraine's grand jury testimony (see note 3, supra) to be inconsistent with his account at trial. We note that all counsel took the same position at trial. In closing argument each defense counsel stated that Fraine's testimony had remained consistent. 4 More significant, even if the evidence were to be considered inconsistent, this difference does not provide "a substantial basis for claiming materiality." United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97, [13 Mass.App.Ct. 183] 106, 96 S.Ct. 2392, 2398, 49 L.Ed.2d 342 (1976), quoted in Commonwealth v. Wilson, --- Mass. ---, ---, Mass.Adv.Sh. (1980) 1627, 1645, 407 N.E.2d 1229.

Cross-examination of Lincoln by defense counsel was extensive and reflected counsel's full grasp of Fraine's grand jury testimony. Even if counsel had possessed more definite knowledge that there was no opportunity for Davis and Lincoln to meet on the occasion of Lincoln's introduction to Liakos, the defendants have not indicated how they were prejudiced by the prosecutor's alleged lapse. See Commonwealth v. Spann, --- Mass. ---, --- - ---, Mass.Adv.Sh. (1981) 681, 688-689, 418 N.E.2d 328. "(B)eyond advancing (this argument, the defendants offer) no indication of how (they) would have restructured (their) cross-examination of (Lincoln) or otherwise altered (their) preparation and presentation so as to take better advantage of the alleged discrepancies." Commonwealth v. St. Germain, --- Mass. ---, ---, Mass.Adv.Sh. (1980) 1807, 1814, 408 N.E.2d 1358.

The additional claim that the prosecutor's delayed disclosure of the fact that Fraine would contradict Lincoln's testimony in all material respects is also without merit. See Commonwealth v. St. Germain, supra at ---, Mass.Adv.Sh. (1980) at 1814, 408 N.E.2d 1358 (the consequences of the delay are what matter). At most, the Commonwealth failed to tell the defendants what they already knew. See Commonwealth v. Wilson, supra at ---, Mass.Adv.Sh. (1980) at 1651, 407 N.E.2d 1229. See also Zeigler v. Callahan, 659 F.2d 254, 265 n.2 (1st Cir. 1981).

1b. Coercion of Fraine. The defendants also argue that there was misconduct by the prosecutor consisting of coercion and intimidation of Fraine. At trial, Fraine testified that prior to trial he was

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threatened by Mr. Wise, a prosecutor, in an effort to induce him to state that there had been meetings between the defendants. After the defendants moved for a mistrial, the judge conducted a very thorough voir dire. He ascertained from counsel for one of the defendants that Fraine did not in fact change his testimony, see note 4, supra, and he heard evidence from Mr. Wise and from Fraine's counsel. Although recognizing that Mr. Wise did not believe Fraine and had leaned hard on him, the judge found that he "didn't try to get Fraine to perjure himself,[13 Mass.App.Ct. 184] didn't put any physical pressure on him." These findings are supported by evidence, including the testimony of Fraine's own counsel. The defendants in their reply brief "do not contest the finding of the trial judge that (Mr.) Wise did not attempt to suborn perjury," nor do they claim that Fraine changed his testimony as a result of Mr. Wise's pressure. They claim, however, that this "coercion," together with the later intimidation by Mr. Delinsky, also a prosecutor, precluded Fraine from talking to defense counsel and...

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7 cases
  • Davis v. Lehane
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts
    • 29 Marzo 2000
    ...J.); Pet'r Mem., Ex. 1. The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed Davis' convictions on February 10, 1982, see Commonwealth v. Davis, 13 Mass.App.Ct. at 180, 431 N.E.2d 251, noting that "there [was] support in the record for" Justice Garrity's conclusion about Fraine, and that even if Justic......
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