Com. v. Earltop

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore HENNESSEY; WILKINS; HENNESSEY
Citation361 N.E.2d 220,372 Mass. 199
Decision Date21 March 1977

Page 220

361 N.E.2d 220
372 Mass. 199
COMMONWEALTH

v.
Curtis Lee EARLTOP.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.
Argued Sept. 17, 1976.
Decided March 21, 1977.

Margaret D. McGaughey, Boston, for defendant.

George E. Foote, Jr., Sp., Asst. Dist. Atty., for the Commonwealth.

Before HENNESSEY, C.J., and BRAUCHER, KAPLAN and WILKINS, JJ.

WILKINS, Justice.

The defendant appeals from his conviction of murder in the second degree. The body of the victim, who was a prostitute, was found on February 7, 1971, in [372 Mass. 200] a third floor room of a building at 413 Massachusetts Avenue in Boston. The defendant challenges (1) the denial of his motion for a directed verdict, (2) the admission in evidence of a brief exchange of words he had with a male prostitute, (3) the denial of access to the grand jury minutes, and (4) the propriety of a portion of the prosecutor's closing argument to the jury. Facts relating to each contention will be set forth as it is considered. The defendant also asks us to exercise our authority and duty under G.L. c. 278, § 33E, and grant him a new trial or direct the entry of a verdict of guilty of a lesser offense than murder in the second degree. There was no reversible error; we see no basis to modify the jury verdict under § 33E; and we affirm the judgment.

1. The motion for a directed verdict was properly denied. Although there were no eyewitnesses to the crime, and the

Page 221

murder weapon was never found, there was circumstantial evidence which warranted the jury's verdict.

Accepting the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, as we must (Commonwealth v. Kelley, --- Mass. ---, --- - --- a, 346 N.E.2d 368 (1976)), the jury could have found the following facts. The victim was killed by a gunshot wound to the side of her head, which may have been caused by a shotgun and probably not by a handgun. Various objects were found in the room, some of which were attributed to the defendant and some of which were not. Those attributable to the defendant were a 'leopard skin' dashiki, a pair of heavy boots, and a black wallet which contained a miniature license plate marked 'Massachusetts--Curt.'

About 4:30 A.M. on February 7, the defendant, wearing a three-quarter length coat, the dashiki and heavy boots, among other things, approached a group of prostitutes in the vicinity of Massachusetts and Columbus avenues. The defendant was known to some of the group whose professional services he had used in the recent past. He propositioned one of them and was rebuffed. There was evidence, whose admissibility we discuss next and uphold, that the defendant had a concealed gun. The group of prostitutes, seeing the police approaching, retired to an all night restaurant. [372 Mass. 201] The defendant followed. He propositioned another of the group, showing her his wallet containing money, in which she also saw the miniature license plate containing the word 'Curt.' When she refused to 'go out with' him, as the witnesses tended to put it euphemistically, the defendant turned his attention to the victim, who agreed to accompany him. The victim and the defendant were last seen walking up the street toward 413 Massachusetts Avenue.

There was medical evidence that the victim died approximately between 4:30 A.M. and 9:30 A.M. The body was found before noon by a Boston policeman who was engaged in preparing a street listing of the occupants of 413 Massachusetts Avenue.

In this state of the evidence, we think it a reasonable inference for the jury to conclude that the defendant shot the victim and fled in great haste, leaving his dashiki, his boots, and his wallet behind. The defendant in the normal course of engaging the victim's services would have been unlikely to leave without his wallet or, especially on a winter's night, to depart without his dashiki and his boots. The fact that the defendant was the last person seen with the victim heading toward 413 Massachusetts Avenue is itself probative of the defendant's guilt. The inference that the defendant killed the victim was reasonable and possible, even if it was not compelled in the circumstances. Commonwealth v. Montecalvo, --- Mass. ---, --- - --- (1975) b, 323 N.E.2d 888 (1975).

2. The defendant challenges the admission of testimony of a brief exchange of words between him and a transvestite named Carole, who did not testify at the trial. One of the prostitutes testified that in the early morning of February 7, 1971, Carole approached the defendant on the street near 413 Massachusetts Avenue, and grabbed him by the waist. The defendant then slapped Carole, who jumped back, and said, 'You have a gun.' The witness testified that the defendant then replied, 'So what if I do.'

The exchange between Carole and the defendant was properly admitted. Standing alone, of course, Carole's statement was inadmissible hearsay. If the defendant had [372 Mass. 202] said nothing, it is doubtful that his silence would have qualified as an implied admission. See Commonwealth v. Wallace, 346 Mass. 9, 14--15, 190 N.E.2d 224 (1963); Commonwealth v. Boris, 317 Mass. 309, 317--318, 58 N.E.2d 8 (1944). However, the defendant did not remain silent. He said, 'So what if I do,' meaning 'So what if I do have a gun.' That statement reasonably could have been inferred to be an admission that he had a gun. Even if it were equivocal,

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the statement was admissible. See Commonwealth v. Valliere, 366 Mass. 479, 488--489 c, 321 N.E.2d 625 (1974); Commonwealth v. McGrath, 351 Mass. 534, 538, 222 N.E.2d 774 (1967); W. B. Leach & P. J. Liacos, Massachusetts Evidence 203 (4th ed. 1967). There was evidence that the defendant could hear and understand what Carole said, and whether he had a gun was certainly within his knowledge. The judge charged the jury that it was for them to say whether by that statement the defendant admitted he had a gun.

The defendant does not challenge the admissibility of evidence that he had a gun shortly before the shooting. The fact that Carole did not testify presents no question of the absence of confrontation of Carole as a witness because it is the defendant's own statement which establishes the admissibility of the exchange between them. Commonwealth v. McGrath, supra at 539, 222 N.E.2d 774.

3. The defendant objects to the judge's denial of his motion for access to grand jury minutes. The motion was presented before trial and was not renewed at any time during trial. The judge was not asked to review the minutes in camera, and no demonstration of particularized need for the minutes was made. We do not know which witnesses may have appeared before the grand jury, nor do we have any showing that the testimony of any witness before the grand jury was inconsistent with his or her trial testimony. This case was tried before our opinion in Commonwealth v. Stewart, 365 Mass. 99, 105--106, 309 N.E.2d 470 (1974), changing prospectively the usual practice concerning the furnishing of grand jury minutes. There is no showing of any abuse of discretion in...

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125 practice notes
  • Com. v. Bourgeois
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 16 Mayo 1984
    ...provide handwriting exemplars. "Counsel may argue as to the evidence and the fair inferences from the evidence." Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 205, 361 N.E.2d 220 (1977) (Hennessey, C.J., concurring). See Commonwealth v. Burke, 373 Mass. 569, 575, 369 N.E.2d 451 (1977). The argume......
  • Commonwealth v. Garabedian
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 25 Febrero 1987
    ...which can be drawn from the evidence." Commonwealth v. Hoffer, 375 Mass. 369, 378 (1978), and cases cited. Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 205 (1977) (Hennessey, C.J., concurring). Because defense counsel failed to object to the prosecutor's argument, we may limit our inquiry to a d......
  • Com. v. Wilson
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 22 Abril 1998
    ...for the defendant's conviction. See Commonwealth v. Kozec, 399 Mass. 514, 516, 505 N.E.2d 519 (1987), citing Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 205, 361 N.E.2d 220 (1977) (Hennessey, C.J., concurring). "[E]nthusiatic rhetoric, strong advocacy, and excusable hyperbole" are not grounds f......
  • Com. v. Cefalo
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 18 Agosto 1980
    ...or allude to facts not in evidence. Especially in the absence of an objection or exception, we see no error. See Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 203-204, 361 N.E.2d 220 (1977). [381 Mass. 339] Page 732 (c) There was no error in the denial of a new trial. The blood tests performed on......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
125 cases
  • Com. v. Bourgeois
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 16 Mayo 1984
    ...provide handwriting exemplars. "Counsel may argue as to the evidence and the fair inferences from the evidence." Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 205, 361 N.E.2d 220 (1977) (Hennessey, C.J., concurring). See Commonwealth v. Burke, 373 Mass. 569, 575, 369 N.E.2d 451 (1977). The argume......
  • Commonwealth v. Garabedian
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 25 Febrero 1987
    ...which can be drawn from the evidence." Commonwealth v. Hoffer, 375 Mass. 369, 378 (1978), and cases cited. Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 205 (1977) (Hennessey, C.J., concurring). Because defense counsel failed to object to the prosecutor's argument, we may limit our inquiry to a d......
  • Com. v. Wilson
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 22 Abril 1998
    ...for the defendant's conviction. See Commonwealth v. Kozec, 399 Mass. 514, 516, 505 N.E.2d 519 (1987), citing Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 205, 361 N.E.2d 220 (1977) (Hennessey, C.J., concurring). "[E]nthusiatic rhetoric, strong advocacy, and excusable hyperbole" are not grounds f......
  • Com. v. Cefalo
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • 18 Agosto 1980
    ...or allude to facts not in evidence. Especially in the absence of an objection or exception, we see no error. See Commonwealth v. Earltop, 372 Mass. 199, 203-204, 361 N.E.2d 220 (1977). [381 Mass. 339] Page 732 (c) There was no error in the denial of a new trial. The blood tests performed on......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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