Commonwealth v. Jones, SJC-12027

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtLENK, J.
Citation77 N.E.3d 278,477 Mass. 307
Decision Date10 January 2017
Docket NumberSJC-12027
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Maurice JONES.

477 Mass. 307
77 N.E.3d 278

Maurice JONES.


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk..

January 10, 2017
June 20, 2017

James L. Sultan (Kerry A. Haberlin also present) for the defendant.

Matthew T. Sears, Assistant District Attorney (Julie Sunkle Higgins, Assistant District Attorney, also present) for the Commonwealth.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, & Budd, JJ.


477 Mass. 307

The defendant was convicted by a Superior Court jury of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty in connection with the shooting

477 Mass. 308

death of Dinoriss Alston on April, 17, 2012.1 The identity of the shooter was the central issue at trial. On appeal, the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, and also asserts a number of errors in the trial proceedings. He maintains that the judge erred in failing to require the Commonwealth to explain its peremptory challenge of a prospective juror; improperly allowed the admission of evidence as to the defendant's refusal to go to the hospital to be shown to the surviving witness and as to a police radio broadcast describing the shooter; incorrectly instructed the jury that circumstantial evidence would suffice while failing to instruct that mere presence was not enough; and improperly limited the defendant's cross-examination of a Commonwealth witness. The defendant asserts also that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and requests relief under G. L. c. 278, § 33E.

We conclude that, while the evidence at trial was not by any means overwhelming, it was sufficient to sustain the defendant's convictions. The judge's failure to require an explanation of the prosecutor's peremptory challenge of a prospective juror who is African-American, however, requires the convictions be vacated. We address other claimed errors only insofar as they may recur at any new trial.

1. Background . Because the defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence, we discuss in some detail the facts the jury could have found.

a. The shooting . On the afternoon of April 17, 2012, Alston and his girl friend, Ashley Platt, were sitting in her vehicle near a park on Dunreath Street in the Roxbury section of Boston when they were struck by multiple gunshots. Platt was in the driver's seat, and Alston was in the front passenger's seat. The primary issue at trial was the identity of the shooter.

Platt testified that, on April 17, 2012, an unseasonably warm day, she and Alston went to the beach after she left work at around 11 A.M. , and later decided to drive

77 N.E.3d 283

to a park in Roxbury where they frequently spent time, arriving at approximately 3:40 or 3:45 P.M. Platt did not tell anyone about their plans for the day. Alston spoke

477 Mass. 309

on his cellular telephone "a couple of times" during the afternoon, including making a call at about 3:07 P.M. to a person identified as "Suncuz."2 At some point on the drive from the beach to the park, the two stopped at a location in the Grove Hall neighborhood of Roxbury, where Alston spoke briefly to a man Platt did not know; when he returned to the vehicle, Alston's demeanor remained "normal." Platt then drove to a convenience store, where Alston made a purchase while she remained in the vehicle, and the two then made their way to Dunreath Street near the park.3 After they stopped, they remained in the vehicle smoking marijuana, while Platt used her cellular telephone to send messages.

Twenty to thirty minutes later, at around 4:03 P.M. , someone opened fire on the vehicle. Bullets came through the windshield and struck Alston, who was in the front passenger's seat, multiple times in the right side of his neck, the right side of his chest, and through his right elbow.4 Alston reached down and put the vehicle in gear and told Platt, who was in the driver's seat, to "go." Platt drove rapidly away from the scene and sought help at a nearby gasoline station on the corner of Moreland Street and Blue Hill Avenue. Emergency responders pronounced Alston dead at the scene, and discovered that Platt also had been shot; she was transported to the hospital in the ambulance that had been summoned for Alston.

b. The investigation . i. Flight from the scene . Platt did not see the shooting itself or anyone carrying a firearm; she saw the windshield cracking and glazing and an individual walking calmly away from the parked vehicle, along Dunreath Street, who ignored her screams for help. She did not see anyone else nearby. At trial, Platt described the individual, whom she saw only from behind, as a black male wearing a white and red shirt, khaki cargo shorts,5 a black and red hat, and Chuck Taylor sneakers, a distinctive

477 Mass. 310

brand of shoes that were primarily black but have a white "rubber front." She lost track of him after driving past him on Dunreath Street.

Because Platt did not see the shooter's face, and thus was unable to identify him, the Commonwealth relied on testimony from a number of other witnesses to establish the defendant's familiarity with the area near the shooting. His former girl friend, who lived in that neighborhood, testified that the defendant had grown up in the neighborhood and continued to come by frequently to visit her. She testified that she spent the evening of the shooting with the defendant "like a normal day," and that he had been "shocked" by the fact that a shooting had taken place nearby.

Another of the defendant's friends testified that, before the shooting, he had seen the defendant in the neighborhood several times a week, but, after the shooting, saw him in the area much less frequently.

77 N.E.3d 284

When asked why he no longer spent time in the area, the defendant replied "the block is hot," which his friend understood to mean that "there [are] cops everywhere."

In addition to Platt's description of the shooter, the Commonwealth introduced testimony from a number of witnesses along the purported path of flight away from the scene of the shooting. Byrain Winbush was at home watching television, near the corner of Warren Street and Dunreath Street, when he heard a series of shots, which sounded as though they had been fired from a semiautomatic firearm. He looked out his window and telephoned 911. Both in his testimony and in the audio recording of the 911 call, which was played for the jury, he described seeing a black male, whom he could see only from behind, wearing "yellow shorts," a "white shirt," and socks and sneakers, without a hat, running up the street. He could see the individual's hands and did not notice a weapon. Although he heard screaming and the sounds of "scattering" feet, he did not see anyone else. The individual with the white shirt and yellow shorts remained in view until he reached the corner of the nearby park.

Leonor Woodson was sitting near the window of her home on Dunreath Street, across the street from the park, when she heard multiple gunshots and looked out the window. Her sister, Leila Jackson, also heard the shots and ran to the window.6 Both saw a black man wearing light pants with pockets on the side, a dark

477 Mass. 311

colored jacket,7 and a cap8 "gallop[ ]" or run quickly down Dunreath Street, turn into the park, then run through the park and turn left onto Copeland Street. As the man ran, he held his right side, either near the hip or the mid-thigh, as if there were something in the pocket. Jackson said that the item appeared to be "weighing him down." The sisters lost sight of the man soon after he left the park and turned onto Copeland Street. While the man was running past their house, Woodson saw a light-colored vehicle drive quickly down Dunreath Street.

Nicolas Guerrero and Bryan Santiago were playing basketball with Santiago's young son in the park between Dunreath and Copeland Streets when they heard gunshots. A few seconds after the shooting stopped, Santiago saw a white vehicle with a shattered passenger's side window go past. Soon thereafter, both Guerrero and Santiago saw a man run past and then leave the park. Both described him as holding the right pocket of his shorts; Guerrero described the shorts as cargo shorts, and Santiago described them as being in between "light brown" and "dark brown." Santiago believed the man was holding something relatively heavy in that pocket.

Jerome Baker was sitting on the porch of his house on Copeland Street, across the park from Dunreath Street, when he heard gunshots, which sounded like they were coming from the other side of the park. He looked up and saw a vehicle "speed away" down Dunreath Street. He then saw a man he knew at that point only as "Mo," but whom he identified during his testimony as the defendant, run through the park. He

77 N.E.3d 285

testified that he believed the defendant had been wearing jeans, but agreed that he had little...

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