Commonwealth v. Melendez, SJC-12889

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation194 N.E.3d 179
Docket NumberSJC-12889
Decision Date12 September 2022

194 N.E.3d 179



Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk.

Argued April 8, 2022
Decided September 12, 2022

Brett J. Vottero, for the defendant.

Andrew Doherty, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Gaziano, Lowy, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.


In 2013, the defendant, Felix Melendez, was indicted on charges of murder in the

194 N.E.3d 184

first degree of Hilda DeVincenzo (victim), unarmed robbery of a person aged sixty or older, and receiving stolen property. At his first trial, the jury found the defendant guilty of receiving stolen property but were unable to reach a verdict on the remaining charges. The defendant was tried for a second time on the murder and robbery charges, and the jury again were unable to reach a verdict. At his third trial on these charges, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty and not guilty of unarmed robbery of a person aged sixty or older. The defendant was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on the murder conviction and to a term of from three years to three years and one day on the conviction of receiving stolen property. This appeal followed and is before us pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 33E. After the appeal was docketed in this court, the defendant filed a motion for a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel, which we consolidated with his direct appeal.

The defendant raises five arguments. First, he argues that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress personal information collected from the defendant's cell phone on the ground that the warrant to search the cell phone was not supported by probable cause. Second, he argues that the trial judge erred in admitting evidence that the defendant had a history of opiate addiction and used heroin on occasions not related to the alleged crimes. Third, the defendant argues that the evidence did not suffice to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt on the murder charge and that the judge therefore erred in denying his motion for a required finding of not guilty. The defendant further argues that a fourth trial for murder would violate State and Federal double jeopardy principles, and that we therefore should dismiss the indictment for murder. Finally, the defendant argues that he should not have been tried for a third time and that we should dismiss the indictment for that reason and prohibit the retrial of any criminal charge after two mistrials due to a hung jury have been declared on that charge.

For the reasons stated infra, we conclude that there exist no grounds for reversal. After conducting a thorough review of the record, we also conclude that there is no reason to exercise our authority under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, to grant a new trial or to reduce the verdict. We therefore affirm the defendant's convictions and deny his motion for a new trial.

Background. "The jury could have found the following facts. We reserve other details for discussion of particular issues." Commonwealth v. Smith, 459 Mass. 538, 539, 946 N.E.2d 95 (2011).

1. Discovery of the victim's body. The victim's house, which was located in Chelsea, has three units and a basement, with common entrances on Washington Avenue and Prospect Avenue. Both entrances open to common staircases accessible from each unit. The basement is accessible from the staircase on the Washington Avenue side of the house and from a half door located outside the Washington Avenue entrance. The victim, who was eighty-eight years old at the time of her death, lived on the second floor; she rented the first-floor apartment to two tenants, and the third-floor apartment to the defendant and his girlfriend.

On July 3, 2013, at approximately 1:30 P.M. , one of the first-floor tenants was having trouble accessing his apartment. He informed the victim, and the victim gave him a spare key. The tenant used the spare key to access his apartment, and then immediately returned the key to the victim before returning to his apartment.

194 N.E.3d 185

Later that afternoon, between approximately 3:30 and 4:30 P.M. , the same first-floor tenant was in the living room of his apartment, directly below the room in which the victim's body later was discovered. From overhead, he heard the sound of someone running and a scream, followed by a bang. At trial, the first-floor tenant identified the scream as having been the victim's. He also testified that, if someone had come down the stairs from the second floor, he would have heard them do so from anywhere in the first-floor apartment. He did not hear anyone come down the stairs.

On July 7, at approximately 12:45 A.M. , Chelsea firefighter Paul Doherty responded to a report of an electrical fire in the basement of the house. When he arrived, no smoke or flames were apparent from the outside of the house. The half door to the basement was open, and Doherty entered. There was no smoke in the basement, but it smelled as if something had been burning, and there was charring on one of the basement walls. The defendant, a thirty-five year old man who was six feet tall and 220 pounds was in the basement speaking with firefighters. The defendant told Doherty that his girlfriend had smelled smoke and that he had gone into the basement, where he discovered the fire, which he suspected was an electrical fire, and extinguished it.

As Doherty was about to leave, the deputy chief firefighter asked him to check on the occupant of the second-floor apartment, who had not been seen in a few days. The defendant unlocked the Washington Avenue entrance to the house and led Doherty and another firefighter up the stairway to the second-floor landing. The door to the victim's apartment was locked. One panel of the door to the apartment appeared to have been replaced with a piece of wood. Without first knocking or calling out to anyone in the apartment, the defendant began to strike the door around the wood panel. Doherty asked him to stop and searched for another way to enter. After Doherty and the other firefighter went out to the rear porch, the defendant called out to them that he had been able to open the door. He appeared to have gained entry by reaching through the damaged panel.

The defendant entered the apartment first, and the firefighters entered behind him. Doherty immediately smelled the odor of a decomposing body. The entrance opened into a kitchen, which had doorways leading to a bedroom, a hallway, and, farthest from the entrance, a dining room. Upon entering, the defendant went directly into the dining room. The victim lay face down on the floor of the dining room dressed only in a brassiere and underwear. Blood was visible on her head and in her hair. The victim's body had not been visible from the entrance. Upon seeing the victim's body, the defendant became distraught. The firefighters asked him to leave the room, and he went back into the kitchen.

The apartment was generally clean and tidy. The victim's bedroom, however, appeared to have been ransacked. Drawers had been pulled out of the bureau and nightstand and emptied onto the bed and floor, and the bed covers had been pulled up over the pillows, partially exposing the mattress.

Additional officers were summoned, and Chelsea police officer Augustus Casucci arrived at the house soon afterward. Casucci and the two firefighters went up to the victim's apartment. The defendant attempted to go into the victim's apartment as well, but Casucci told him not to do so. The defendant appeared to be excited and nervous. After Casucci entered the victim's apartment, the defendant went up to the

194 N.E.3d 186

third-floor apartment, and then came down to the second-floor apartment and asked whether he could enter. He stated that the keys to his car might be inside. He was not allowed to enter. Then, while two other officers who had arrived were on the rear porch of the second-floor apartment, they heard footsteps overhead on the third-floor porch. The defendant had come out onto the porch above and was smoking a cigarette.

2. Investigation. An autopsy of the victim revealed injuries to her neck, including fractures to her thyroid cartilage, which were consistent with compression or blunt force trauma. Her sternum and all but five of her ribs had been broken. She also had blunt force injuries on all of her extremities, and either blunt force or sharp force injuries to her head. Soft tissue hemorrhaging around the bone and cartilage fractures indicated that the injuries were inflicted prior to her death. The Commonwealth's expert testified that either the injuries to the victim's neck or those to her chest could have caused her death.

The victim's son examined the contents of the apartment to determine whether any of the victim's property had been removed and provided investigators with a list of missing items. All of the victim's jewelry was missing, including, specifically, a platinum or white gold ring with a row of diamonds, a gold wedding ring, a white gold pinky ring with two stones, a gold necklace with a pendant in the shape of the letter "H," and a gold necklace with a crucifix pendant. The victim's son described the...

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3 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Kapaia, SJC-12454
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • November 17, 2022
    ...killing with malice aforethought,[5 ] ... and with extreme atrocity or cruelty...." Commonwealth v. Melendez, 490 Mass. 648, 665, 194 N.E.3d 179 (2022). Here, there was overwhelming evidence that the shooting at issue was an intentional killing committed with malice aforethought and with ex......
  • Williams v. Bd. of Appeals of Norwell, SJC-13230
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • September 16, 2022
    ...that a "right of way" was considered to be a type of "way." See Ampagoomian v. Atamian, 323 Mass. 319, 322, 81 N.E.2d 843 (1948) 194 N.E.3d 179 (referring to "right of way" as "way"); Swensen v. Marino, 306 Mass. 582, 583, 29 N.E.2d 15 (1940) (same); Panikowski v. Giroux, 272 Mass. 580, 581......
  • Commonwealth v. Cordeiro, 22-P-65
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • January 20, 2023 a person of reasonable caution would take such statements with some skepticism. See Commonwealth v. Melendez, 490 Mass. 648, 658-659, 194 N.E.3d 179 (2022) (probable cause that defendant committed crime despite defendant's exculpatory statement to police). Furthermore, the officer's obse......

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