Commonwealth v. Miranda

Citation146 N.E.3d 435,484 Mass. 799
Decision Date09 June 2020
Docket NumberSJC-11690
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts

Susan J. Baronoff for the defendant.

Stephen C. Nadeau, Jr., Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Lowy, Budd, & Kafker, JJ.


A jury convicted the defendant, Fagbemi Miranda, of murder in the first degree on a theory of deliberate premeditation in connection with the 2005 shooting death of Christopher Barros.1 The victim and the defendant had been engaged in a raucous verbal argument in the street outside the defendant's New Bedford home, when the defendant's younger brother, Wayne,2 intervened with a handgun. The victim fled across the street and down a neighboring driveway, with Wayne in pursuit; the defendant, who had yelled for Wayne to stop, then dashed down the driveway. Wayne passed the gun to the defendant, who fired two shots at the fleeing victim, one of them fatal. Police arrested Wayne later that night, as multiple witnesses had seen him with the gun chasing the victim, and his indictment for the victim's murder followed roughly one month thereafter.3 The defendant's indictment and arrest did not follow for more than two years, after a percipient witness (neighbor), who recently had been arrested on unrelated drug charges, proffered her cooperating testimony identifying the defendant for the first time as the shooter.

On appeal, the defendant challenges the trial judge's failure to instruct the jury on self-defense, and raises numerous other issues, including ineffective assistance of counsel, interference with his right to testify, and improper denial of his motions to dismiss the grand jury indictments and to suppress evidence. For the reasons explained infra, we affirm the defendant's convictions as well as the orders denying his pretrial and postconviction motions, and decline to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 33E.

Background. 1. Facts. We summarize the facts the jury could have found based on the Commonwealth's evidence, reserving certain topics for later discussion. Not long before 8:30 P.M. on the evening of October 10, 2005, the defendant and the victim engaged in a loud verbal argument on the pavement outside the house where the defendant lived with his family (Miranda home).4 Their shouting drew the attention of several neighbors. The defendant assumed an aggressive stance, pointing and coming in close to the victim's face, and both men gestured with their hands as they screamed at each other, but they never made physical contact. A third, unidentified man stood looking on nearby, next to a sedan parked on the street outside the Miranda home.

The defendant's younger brother, Wayne, soon ran out the front door of the Miranda home and down the stairs into the street, joining the fracas. The defendant inched back and looked on as Wayne approached within inches of the victim's face and shouted angrily into the victim's ear for several minutes. Wayne then ran back inside the Miranda home. The defendant raised his fists, and the shouting match with the victim resumed.

About one minute later, Wayne reemerged from the front door, still angry, a black handgun now visible in his right hand. Following close behind, Wayne's grandmother yelled at him to stop and get back into the house, and she then tried to block his path and grab him. Ignoring her directive, he proceeded halfway down the porch stairs and then jumped over the bannister down onto the pavement. As Wayne landed next to the defendant, the victim looked at Wayne and yelled: "Are you serious, Waynie? Are you serious? It's like that? It's like that?" Shouting back, Wayne pointed the handgun at the victim's forehead at very close range. The victim stepped back, holding his hands up by his shoulders, palms facing out, while saying "No." The defendant tried to get the gun away from Wayne, and then attempted to push him to go back into the house, while yelling for Wayne to stop and repeatedly shouting "no."

The victim ran across the street and into the open driveway alongside the neighbor's house, proceeding down the narrow path between the right side of the house and a car parked in the middle of the driveway. Wayne chased after him, along the same path. The defendant dashed down the driveway after Wayne, using the wider path along the other side of the car. The unidentified man followed last.

From where it met the sidewalk on the east side of the street, the twelve-foot width of driveway led straight back, alongside the house and then about twenty feet further, where it ended in front of a long multibay garage that formed the rear perimeter of the property. To the left of the driveway was a small back yard, about forty feet wide, which filled the space between the rear of the house and the garage, with a wooden picket fence running along its north boundary, opposite the driveway. There was a large tree growing in the yard, right up against the fence, roughly ten feet west of the garage.5

As the victim raced down the driveway with Wayne in close pursuit, the neighbor, who lived on the second floor of the house on that property, opened an adjacent window and yelled out, "No, Waynie, no. Think of your daughter."6 Still running, the Miranda brothers converged in front of the parked car, and together they continued down the length of the driveway, coming to a halt near some garbage cans in front of the garage. Following a brief exchange of words, Wayne passed the gun to the defendant. The neighbor saw the defendant raise the gun and point it toward the picket fence on the far side of the yard. The sound of two gunshots rang out in quick succession, emanating from the direction of the yard. The victim's body was later found on the opposite side of the picket fence.

Seconds later, another neighborhood resident (first reporter) observed both Miranda brothers and the unidentified man emerge from the driveway onto the sidewalk, where one of the brothers passed the gun to the other brother. The two brothers then proceeded back across the street and inside the Miranda home, while the unidentified man got into a black car and drove off. Perched on a friend's fourth-floor apartment balcony with a view up the street, the first reporter noted the victim's failure to reemerge from the driveway. He also observed that the black car sped off without stopping anywhere in the vicinity to pick up anyone.7

About five minutes later, when police responded to an 8:32 P.M. dispatch of shots fired in the area,8 the defendant was standing by himself on the porch of the Miranda home. A marked police cruiser stopped in front of the Miranda home, and one of the arriving officers asked the defendant if he had heard any gunshots. The defendant replied that he just had been the target of gunshots. The officer climbed the porch stairs, seeking additional details. The defendant appeared jittery as he told the officer that he had been walking to the house from his nearby parked car, when a black Ford vehicle stopped near him on the street. Someone called to him from the back seat shortly before a man wearing a mask jumped out of the vehicle and pursued the defendant across the street, down the driveway next to the neighbor's house, and into the back yard. As the defendant climbed over the fence into a neighboring yard, the man fired two shots at him. The officer asked the defendant to come across the street and point out the fence he was climbing when the man fired at him. The defendant stated that his grandmother was upset, and he wanted to go speak with her; the officer assured him that it would only take a moment, so the defendant agreed.

The defendant accompanied the officer across the street, into the neighbor's driveway, and down to the edge of the yard, where four or five other law enforcement officers were searching the area for evidence with flashlights.9 He pointed to the picket fence on the north side of the yard and identified it as the one he was climbing when the masked man fired. He then asked the officer if he could leave and see his grandmother; following an affirmative response, he departed.

Police soon located the victim's unconscious body on the other side of the picket fence, in the corner of the adjacent residential lot.10 The victim was lying belly down and partly rolled over onto the left side, with his head turned to face the picket fence. The victim was unarmed. No weapons were found nearby. A bullet wound

was visible under his left arm, and his jeans were stained with blood. Despite resuscitation efforts, the victim remained unresponsive, and was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital.11

Meanwhile, the neighbor was pacing between the rooms of her second-floor residence when she glimpsed the beams of police flashlights in the driveway and yard. From her bathroom window, the neighbor caught the attention of an officer. The neighbor spoke to the officer for about two minutes, but did not report what she had seen in the driveway and yard before the gun shots. When the officer asked the neighbor to come to the police station to make a formal statement, she refused because, as she later testified, she was scared of the Mirandas.12

On the street, a number of people had gathered in the vicinity of the crime scene. Officers located the defendant among them and told him that detectives would want to speak with him at the station. They escorted him to the marked police cruiser that was parked along the curb outside the Miranda home, and he got into the back seat without protest. An officer then drove the defendant to the station, escorted him inside, and left.

At about 10:30 P.M. , another officer met the defendant in the lobby of the police station. The defendant agreed to speak with the officer, and accompanied him to an interview room in the detective unit. The officer did not provide the defendant with Miranda warnings,...

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