Com. v. Masskow

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation362 Mass. 662,290 N.E.2d 154
Decision Date01 December 1972

Page 154

290 N.E.2d 154
362 Mass. 662

William MASSKOW.
Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk.
Argued Oct. 2, 1972.
Decided Dec. 1, 1972.

[362 Mass. 663]

Page 155

Alexander Whiteside, II, Boston, for defendant.

John P. Connor, Jr., Asst. Dist. Atty., for the Commonwealth.

Before [362 Mass. 662] TAURO, C.J., and REARDON, QUIRICO, BRAUCHER and KAPLAN, JJ.

[362 Mass. 663] BRAUCHER, Justice.

This is an appeal under G. L. c. 278, §§ 33A--33G, from a conviction upon an indictment charging the defendant with the murder of his sister's husband. The defendant was arrested on August 17, 1966, shortly after the death of the victim. Until September, 1968, the defendant was deemed incompetent to stand trial, and the trial was held in May, 1969. There was a nolle prosequi of so much of the indictment as alleged first degree murder, and the defendant was convicted of murder in the second degree. In February, 1971, the defendant moved for a new trial, and the motion was denied in April 1971.

The defendant argues two main points: first, that the judge erred in admitting in evidence the defendant's 'confession' to a police officer while in custody, and second, that a new trial should be ordered because the prosecution withheld evidence of the defendant's lack of criminal responsibility and because justice so requires in view of the totality of the evidence. At the trial, the defendant made no attempt to controvert the evidence for the prosecution, but contended only that he was insane and was in no way responsible for what took place. Compare Commonwealth v. Cox, 327 Mass. 609, 610, 100 N.E.2d 14. Without objection the judge charged the jury that 'there doesn't seem to be any dispute that this defendant shot and killed' the victim. In his motion for a new trial, the defendant asserted that the 'sole defense in this case was that the defendant's mental condition was such that he was not criminally responsible for the alleged homicide.' Some of the defendant's present contentions seem to run counter to his trial strategy. See Commonwealth v. [362 Mass. 664] Johnson, 352 Mass. 311, 317, 225 N.E.2d 360, cert. dism. as improvidently granted sub nom. Johnson v. Massachusetts, 390 U.S. 511, 511n, 88 S.Ct. 1155, 20 L.Ed.2d 69; COMMONWEALTH V. EARL, MASS., 283 N.E.2D 677A.

We summarize first the evidence for the prosecution apart from any admissions of the defendant. He was thirty-five years old at the time of the shooting, and had lived in the same house with his sister for many years. The victim, her husband, had lived in the same house since their marriage in 1963. The defendant had an eighth grade education, a long history of alcoholism and possibly drug addition, including hospitalization, ate tranquilizer pills 'like candy,' and never held a steady job. The victim regularly beat his wife, and the defendant observed many of the beatings. On quite a few occasions the defendant asked the victim to stop, but his sister told him not to interfere. The defendant kept guns as a hobby.

On the night of the shooting the defendant was last seen by his sister at supper with her father, her husband, and her five children. She last saw the victim when she went to bed about 9 or 9:30 P.M. About 1:30 A.M. the victim was shot in the head three times in his separate bedroom, probably while in a sitting position. About that time a next door neighbor, returning home after a work day ending at midnight, thought he heard a gunshot. Then the defendant, whom the neighbor had known about ten years, came along, called to the neighbor, threatened him with

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a gun, and shot at a car. The neighbor grabbed the gun when it fell out of the defendant's pocket, and the defendant fled. The neighbor asked his mother to call the police. The police came and arrested the defendant. Three bullets found in the victim's room and one found in the car at which the defendant had shot had been fired from the gun taken from the defendant. That gun required a separate pull of four to four and one-half pounds on the trigger for each successive shot. Ammunition taken from the defendant on his arrest was of the same make and caliber, and there was human blood on the defendant's shirt.

[362 Mass. 665] We next summarize the statements of the defendant which were admitted in evidence without any exception by him. The defendant, before he was arrested, told the neighbor that he had shot the victim because '(h)e twisted the dog's ear, hit my sister. . . . I ran into the bedroom. . . . I woke him up told him I was going to shoot him, and I shot him. . . . I can shoot you, too. You coming with me? . . . If that is the cops, I will shoot it out with them.' He wanted to make a telephone call, but not from the telephone in a nearby laundromat: 'No, the cop is in there all the time and I know him and they have been looking for me and he will pick me up.' Later he said, 'If there is anybody in that car I will shoot them.' Still later he said, 'Stop. If you're thinking about running, don't, because I am a good shot. I can shoot you just like anything . . .. I can really shoot you.' When he shot at the car, the neighbor said, 'Sonny, cops are going to be coming,' and the defendant said, 'I know. We have to go hide somewhere.' After the neighbor grabbed the gun, the defendant said, 'Don't turn me in. I know a lot of . . . friends. If I can't get you, they will.' When he was arrested, the defendant said to the arresting officers, 'Shoot anyway. I am going to get the chair.' When asked his name, he said, 'I know my rights. I don't have to tell you anything.' At the station he telephoned his father and said, 'Dad, I am in a little bit of trouble. . . . I am in bad trouble.' He then turned to an officer and said, 'He deserved it. He best up my sister and he punctured her cardrum.' He also asked if he could be bailed.

1. The 'confession.' After the neighbor and two police officers had testified to the statements we have summarized, a third police officer testified that at the police station Captain Finn had warned the defendant of his rights. The officer was asked whether he heard the defendant say anything after he was warned of his rights. Over the defendant's objection and exception, the officer answered, 'Yes.' Without further objection the officer was asked, 'What did he say?' and he answered,[362 Mass. 666] 'He came out with some beauties.' The defendant objected that the witness should be asked whether 'in his opinion the man knew what he was doing or knew what he was talking about.' The officer testified, 'Whether he understood it or not, it's a difficult question to answer. . . . No, I really couldn't answer whether he understood the questions or not. If he realized the depth of the questions, I don't know.' Upon the defendant's renewed objection the judge ruled that he would permit testimony as to a statement made voluntarily by the defendant without a question, and that the defendant's lack of understanding 'goes to the weight of the evidence.' The defendant excepted to that ruling. In response to several further questions by the prosecutor, by counsel for the defendant, and by the court, without further objection or exception, the officer testified that the defendant 'stated that he knew at the time Capt. Finn was a no good . . . (obscenity),' that Captain Finn asked, 'Do you realize or do you understand what you are in here for?' and that the defendant said, 'Yes, I know what I am here for, because I shot that . . . (obscenity) brother-in-law.'

The defendant assigns as error the admission in evidence of his 'confession'

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that he 'killed' his brother-in-law, the judge's ruling that his understanding went to the weight of the evidence, and...

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41 cases
  • Com. v. Harris
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • December 15, 1976
    ...of due process of law and affirmative evidence on involuntariness which was developed at trial, cf. Commonwealth v. Masskow, 362 Mass. 662, 667, 290 N.E.2d 154 (1972), the interest of the State in preventing a substantial risk of injustice outweights the interests described above. Cf. Henry......
  • Commonwealth v. Harris
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    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • June 29, 2022
    ...not binding on us, "we give respectful consideration to such lower Federal court decisions as seem persuasive." Commonwealth v. Masskow, 362 Mass. 662, 667, 290 N.E.2d 154 (1972).In the first case, Hill I, the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that a malice instruction including the phrase "......
  • Com. v. Vasquez
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • March 26, 2010
    ...of what the Federal Constitution demands, and that Verde was not controlling for purposes of Federal review. See Commonwealth v. Masskow, 362 Mass. 662, 667, 290 N.E.2d 154 (1972) ("We are of course bound by decisions of the Supreme Court on questions of Federal law . . ."). Nonetheless, it......
  • Com. v. Moore
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 29, 1979
    ...of the appeal. We of course give respectful consideration to persuasive decisions of the Federal courts. See Commonwealth v. Masskow, 362 Mass. 662, 667, 290 N.E.2d 154 (1972). There is force in the characterization of the dock as an "anachronism" by the United States District Court judge i......
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