Com. v. Goetzendanner, 93-P-1295

CourtAppeals Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtBefore WARNER; IRELAND
Citation42 Mass.App.Ct. 637,679 N.E.2d 240
Docket NumberNo. 93-P-1295,93-P-1295
Decision Date08 July 1997

Page 240

679 N.E.2d 240
42 Mass.App.Ct. 637

No. 93-P-1295.
Appeals Court of Massachusetts,
Argued Jan. 16, 1997.
Decided May 20, 1997.
Further Appellate Review Denied July 8, 1997.

Page 241

Charles K. Stephenson, Granby, for defendant.

Anne M. Kendall, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Before WARNER, C.J., and KAPLAN and IRELAND, JJ.

IRELAND, Justice.

The defendant was convicted by a Superior Court jury of aggravated rape (two indictments),

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kidnapping, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (a stick), assault [42 Mass.App.Ct. 638] by means of a dangerous weapon (a knife), and assault and battery. 1 He was sentenced to concurrent terms of from twenty to thirty years on the aggravated rape convictions. 2 He appeals from the convictions and from the denial of his motion for a new trial, 3 contending that: (1) testimony of an expert witness concerning "battered woman's syndrome" was wrongly admitted as evidence at his trial; and (2) he was denied effective assistance by his trial counsel. We affirm the convictions and the denial of the motion.

1. Facts. The pertinent facts that the jury could have found are as follows. The defendant, who was then on parole, met the victim in November, 1991, at the Red Cross in Pittsfield. She subsequently moved into the Pittsfield YMCA. The victim had recently relocated to Pittsfield to escape from an abusive relationship with another man.

The defendant and the victim struck up a relationship, and soon the two moved together into a one-room apartment on Dalton Avenue in Pittsfield. Their relationship was a stormy one. According to the victim, the defendant was jealous and possessive of her, and he occasionally physically abused her. They often argued about another girlfriend of the defendant, who provided him with money and alcohol. On more than one occasion, the victim left the defendant and returned to the battered women's shelter, only to resume the relationship after being swayed by the defendant's emotional entreaties to her that he was sorry and that he loved her. At one point, the victim moved back into the one-room apartment with the defendant, but within a week she returned to the shelter. The victim was drinking and using drugs regularly at the time.

The victim testified that she wished to end the relationship. Despite this, the two met frequently throughout most of February and early March, 1992, while the victim continued to reside at the shelter. During one conversation, the victim arranged with the defendant to pick up some of her belongings [42 Mass.App.Ct. 639] from the Dalton Avenue room where the defendant continued to live.

She went there around noon on March 9, 1992, and found the defendant there alone. At the defendant's request, the two engaged in sexual relations, and then both fell asleep on the defendant's bed for about an hour. The victim awoke and began gathering her belongings. Seeing this, the defendant bolted from the bed, pinned the victim against a wall, and started punching her in the face while telling her that she could not leave him. He pushed her onto the bed and continued to punch her in the face and body.

Later, he ordered her to go to a neighbor's room down the hall to get cigarettes. As she began to neaten herself and to comb her hair, the defendant grabbed her by the hair, tearing a large clump of hair from her scalp. Shortly afterward, the defendant left the room and returned, bearing a stick which he used to beat the victim's head and body until the stick broke into pieces. The defendant resumed beating the victim with his fists and then held a knife to her throat, telling her he could kill her and hide her body in the woods and nobody would ever know.

The defendant ordered the victim to don a pink negligee and to have sex with him. The defendant proceeded to have sexual relations with the victim. Following that act, the two showered together in a communal bathroom down the hall from the room, and the defendant then returned with the victim to the room. Once inside, he barricaded the door with a piece of furniture. The defendant again demanded that the victim have sex with him.

Finally, the defendant left the room, and the victim, clad only in a bathrobe, fled to a

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neighbors' apartment. One of the neighbors testified that the victim was "crying and shaking and begging for help." The victim told the neighbors of the beating. The victim hid in the neighbors' bedroom while one of the neighbors called the police.

One of the police officers who responded to the neighbor's call described the victim as "ha[ving] been beaten so bad her eyes were practically swollen shut." Shortly afterward, the police officers arrested the defendant as he walked along Dalton Avenue headed back toward the apartment. The victim was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital where an examining physician observed that she appeared to have been severely beaten.

[42 Mass.App.Ct. 640] She was treated and released from the hospital that same night and went back to the shelter. She became distraught, depressed, and obsessed with trying to understand why the defendant had beaten her. She continued to use drugs and to drink heavily. Eventually, she sent the defendant a letter. He wrote back and then continued to write to the victim almost daily, professing his love for her and urging her to assist in his defense by recanting her accusations.

Eventually, the victim went to visit the defendant in jail. She stated that, at the time, she thought that visiting him was a mistake. But she continued to visit him in jail, because she feared that, if she stopped, he would become angry, distraught, and would again try to hurt her. While he was in jail awaiting trial, the victim visited him and also wrote to him regularly, even sending him a letter (referred to at trial as the "smut" letter) in which she graphically rehearsed the details of their past sexual activities.

Subsequently, the victim had the restraining order against the defendant removed, recanted her earlier statements concerning the attack of March 9, 1992, and attributed the attack to a former boyfriend. Shortly afterward, the victim admitted herself to a residential drug and alcohol treatment program where she reaffirmed to the police her earlier statements about the defendant's role in the March 9, 1992, attack.

2. Expert testimony about battered woman's syndrome. To the average juror, untutored in the psychological dynamics of domestic violence, the victim's vacillating behavior toward the defendant--in particular, her back and forth attempts to end the relationship--might have seemed counterintuitive and might even have suggested that her version of events was inherently unreliable and unworthy of belief. To help blunt the possible impact upon jurors of the victim's erratic conduct and to counter the defendant's cross-examination of the victim concerning that conduct, the Commonwealth (over the defendant's objection) offered expert testimony on the general characteristics of women with battered woman's syndrome (BWS) from Karla Digirolamo, the executive director of the New York State Office for Prevention of Domestic Violence (N.Y.OPDV). Digirolamo holds a bachelor's degree in psychology and, at the time of trial, had over ten years of experience in the field of domestic violence. She had previously testified [42 Mass.App.Ct. 641] as an expert on BWS in two New York State criminal cases. During a voir dire examination, Digirolamo outlined her qualifications in detail. 4

Digirolamo testified about domestic violence generally and about BWS specifically, which she described as a form of posttraumatic stress disorder. She explained the cyclical nature of abusive relationships, the effect drugs and alcohol have upon those relationships, and the survival tactics typically exhibited by battered women, including their tendency to leave and then return to the batterer many times before finally ending

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the relationship. According to Digirolamo, women victims of battering often experience a strong desire to understand why the abuse occurred.

Digirolamo never examined the victim and, in fact, never met with or talked to her. Digirolamo did not attempt to "diagnose" the victim as suffering from BWS. She testified exclusively in general terms about typical BWS victims. With but one exception, 5 her testimony focused upon victims of abuse and not upon the perpetrators of abuse.

The defendant contends that the judge should not have qualified Digirolamo to offer expert testimony on BWS because she lacked an advanced, specialized degree as a clinician who could diagnose individuals as suffering from BWS. The defendant complains, too, that, because Digirolamo was "unschooled on the facts of the case," she should not have been permitted to testify as an expert. Finally, the defendant argues that expert testimony on BWS was unnecessary to the Commonwealth's case because the victim herself was capable of explaining the reasons for her own behavior. Whatever assistance[42 Mass.App.Ct. 642] Digirolamo's testimony may have provided to the jury, according to the defendant, was far outweighed by unfair prejudice.

"A judge has wide discretion in qualifying a witness to offer expert opinion. Commonwealth v. Devlin, 365 Mass. 149, 152, 310 N.E.2d 353 (1974)." Commonwealth v. Avellar, 416 Mass. 409, 417, 622 N.E.2d 625 (1993). See Commonwealth v. Johnson, 410 Mass. 199, 202, 571 N.E.2d 623 (1991). The decision to qualify a witness as an expert on a particular matter that is within that witness's field of expertise will not be disturbed absent an abuse of discretion or error of law. Ibid. "The crucial issue is whether the witness has sufficient education, training, experience, and familiarity with the subject matter of [her] testimony." Letch v. Daniels, 401 Mass. 65, 68, 514 N.E.2d 675 (1987).

The witness did not...

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