Com. v. Kilburn

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation686 N.E.2d 961,426 Mass. 31
Decision Date27 October 1997

Page 961

686 N.E.2d 961
426 Mass. 31

Andrew W. KILBURN.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts,
Argued Sept. 4, 1997.
Decided Oct. 27, 1997.

Page 962

Roger A. Cox, Ashland, for defendant.

Eric Neyman, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.


LYNCH, Justice.

After a jury trial the defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree as a joint venturer by reason of felony murder. 1 On appeal, the defendant contends that: (1) the trial judge erred in denying the defendant's motion for a required finding of not guilty or in the alternative for a new trial based on the insufficiency of the Commonwealth's evidence; and (2) [426 Mass. 32] the judge erred in denying the defendant's motion for a mistrial after the jury heard evidence later determined to be inadmissible. The defendant also requests that we exercise our power under G.L. c. 278, § 33E, to order a new trial. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the conviction and decline to exercise our power under G.L. c. 278, § 33E.

Facts. We set forth the facts in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, reserving certain details for discussion in conjunction with certain issues raised. See Commonwealth v. Nichypor, 419 Mass. 209, 210, 643 N.E.2d 452 (1994); Commonwealth v. Burnett, 417 Mass. 740, 741, 632 N.E.2d 1206 (1994). On the afternoon of September 2, 1992, the victim was having lunch with a business associate, Alex Loer, in the living room of the victim's apartment at 34 Farnsworth Street in the South Boston section of Boston. In response to a knock the victim opened the door and a still unidentified man forced his way into the apartment brandishing a gun. On entering, the gunman ordered both the victim and Loer to a bedroom located in the rear of the apartment. Loer passed through the bedroom doorway first, and fell to his knees with his back facing the

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doorway. Shortly thereafter, Loer heard a gunshot, looked over his shoulder, and found the assailant gone and the victim slumped over on the floor of the bedroom. Loer then telephoned the police, and they arrived at the scene minutes later.

At roughly the same time as the shooting, a woman was walking on Farnsworth Street toward a nearby parking garage. As the witness reached the intersection where Farnsworth Street crossed a "roughly paved" alley, she saw a man running quickly down the alley onto Farnsworth Street. This man approached an automobile that was parked in the alley in such a way that its driver was shielded from the witness's view. As the man began to open the automobile's passenger door, the witness heard him yell something to the driver which was "not intelligible" to her. The automobile began to move even before the man was completely inside and then proceeded down the alley away from Farnsworth Street "at a pretty good clip." The witness was able to observe both the automobile's license plate and its make and model before it fled the scene.

Because of the information furnished by the witness the police investigation focused on the defendant. In response to questioning the defendant told the police that he had been in Boston the week of the murder, but that he "wasn't familiar with the area." [426 Mass. 33] On further questioning, the defendant said that on the day of the murder, "a guy jumped in his car, put a gun to his head, and told him to drive off slowly." Hearing this, the detectives seized the defendant's automobile, which the witness later identified as the automobile she observed on September 2, 1992.

On September 9, 1992, Boston police detectives returned to the defendant's residence to arrest him. After being read his Miranda rights, the defendant made several incriminating statements regarding his role in the shooting. One of the arresting officers, Detective Timothy Callahan, testified:

"[The defendant] stated that he had intended to give us a call. He didn't know that [the victim] had died. He stated that he hasn't been sleeping regularly over it. He also stated that the guy never told him that he shot him, that the gun just went off. He told him that the gun went off, but never told him that anyone was killed. It wasn't until a few days after that that he realized that someone did get killed."

Detective Callahan also testified that, during the same conversation, the defendant "stated that they had just gone there to 'do' [the victim]," but that "it should have never happened, he should have never died." 2

The judge's denial of the defendant's motion for a required finding of not guilty and motion for a new trial. The defendant's principal argument is that the judge erred in denying his motion for a required finding of not guilty. 3 In reviewing such a contention, "we determine whether the evidence offered by the Commonwealth, together with reasonable inferences therefrom, when viewed in its light most favorable to the Commonwealth, was sufficient to persuade a rational jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the existence of every element of the crime charged." Commonwealth v. Campbell, 378 Mass. 680, 686, 393 N.E.2d 820 (1979).

[426 Mass. 34] In order to convict a defendant of murder as a joint venturer 4 the Commonwealth

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must establish that the defendant "was (1) present at the scene of the crime, (2) with knowledge that another intends to commit the crime or with intent to commit a crime, and (3) by agreement [was] willing and available to help the other if necessary." Commonwealth v. Bianco, 388 Mass. 358, 366, 446 N.E.2d 1041, S.C., 390 Mass. 254, 454 N.E.2d 901 (1983).

It is primarily with respect to the "knowledge" requirement, that the defendant claims, that the Commonwealth's evidence was insufficient. 5 To satisfy this requirement in a case where armed assault in a dwelling is the underlying felony, the Commonwealth must first prove that the defendant knew that his accomplice was armed. See Commonwealth v. Claudio, 418 Mass. 103, 111, 634 N.E.2d 902 (1994); Commonwealth v. Bourgeois, 404 Mass. 61, 64, 533 N.E.2d 638 (1989). Second, the Commonwealth must demonstrate that the defendant knew that there was a "substantial likelihood" that his accomplice would commit the armed assault. See Commonwealth v. Walsh, 407 Mass. 740, 743, 555 N.E.2d 593 (1990); Commonwealth v. Champagne, 399 Mass. 80, 87, 503 N.E.2d 7 (1987). In examining the sufficiency of the Commonwealth's evidence regarding these two prongs, we must be mindful of the fact that "[a] person's knowledge or intent is a matter of fact which is often not susceptible of proof by direct evidence, so resort is frequently made to proof by inference from all the facts and circumstances developed at the trial.... The inferences drawn by the jury need only be reasonable and possible and need not be necessary or inescapable...." Commonwealth v. Stewart, 411 Mass. 345, 350, 582 N.E.2d 514 (1991), quoting Commonwealth v. Casale, 381 Mass. 167, 173, 408 N.E.2d 841 (1980). "Whether an inference is warranted [426 Mass. 35] or is impermissibly remote must be determined, not by hard and fast rules of law, but by experience and common sense." Commonwealth v. Giang, 402 Mass. 604, 609, 524 N.E.2d 383 (1988), quoting Commonwealth v. Drew, 4 Mass.App.Ct. 30, 32, 340 N.E.2d 524 (1976).

Contrary to the defendant's assertions, the Commonwealth did present circumstantial evidence sufficient to satisfy both prongs of the "knowledge" requirement. With respect to the first prong, the defendant's own words--as recounted by Detective Callahan at trial--permitted the jury to conclude that he knew the assailant was armed. His statement that "the gun just went off" is particularly probative in that it implies some previous knowledge that the...

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