Commonwealth v. Mitchell, 9673CF0312

Decision Date18 December 2000
Docket Number9673CF0312
Citation2000 MBAR 367
PartiesCommonwealth v. Mitchell
CourtMassachusetts Superior Court
Venue Bristol

Judge (with first initial, no space for Sullivan, Dorsey, and Walsh): Brassard, J.

Opinion Title: MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR A NEW TRIAL
INTRODUCTION

On December 18, 1998, a jury found the defendant Curtis Mitchell guilty on two counts of first degree murder, for the deaths of David Allen and Sonia Shurtliff. Mitchell now moves for a new trial pursuant to Mass.R.Crim.P. 30(b) on the ground that his Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by counsel's invocation, during trial, of Massachusetts Rule of Professional Conduct 3.3 and this court's application of that rule to require the defendant to testify in a narrative fashion and to preclude defense counsel from arguing the defendant's testimony to the jury. In addition, Mitchell contends that counsel's substandard performance at trial deprived him of the effective assistance of counsel. For the reasons discussed below, the defendant's motion is DENIED.

BACKGROUND

The defendant, Curtis Mitchell, who was represented at trial by Attorney Francis O'Boy, was tried before a jury from December 10 to December 18, 1998 on two counts of first degree murder.

In his opening statement, defense counsel emphasized the lack of physical evidence tying the defendant to the crime. He stressed the lack of credibility of the witnesses who would implicate the defendant. In addition, he stated that the evidence would identify several people other than the defendant who had both motive and opportunity to kill the victims. Finally, counsel stressed that the Commonwealth bore the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

The first witness was Fall River Police Officer David Lafleur who testified that on April 10, 1996, he went to the home of the deceased, Sonia Shurtliff and David Allen, at 101 Baker Street in Fall River. Lafleur testified that the left side of Shurtliff's face was very bruised and swollen, and that she stated that she had gone to 1091 Rodman Street, looking for Julius Adams, in order to purchase drugs. Shurtliff told Lafleur that Adams, who was angry at her for bringing someone he did not know to his house to purchase drugs, struck her in the face. Shurtliff later returned to Adams's house with her boyfriend, David Allen, and following a discussion about the earlier incident, Adams moved to strike her again. Allen grabbed Adams's arm and Adams's wife, Barbara, struck Shurtliff in the face with a cordless phone, knocking her to the ground. Officer Lafleur testified that Shurtliff wanted to file a complaint for assault and battery against Adams and his wife, and such charges were eventually brought. Lafleur further testified that on June 13, he went to 1091 Rodman Street to assist narcotics detectives in executing a search warrant for the Adams' apartment. That address is a large multi-family house with three apartments on the left and three apartments on the right. Lafleur testified that 101 Baker Street was parallel to 1091 Rodman Street, with the backyards abutting each other. He stated that he had patrolled the area including Rodman Street, Warren Street and part of Baker Street for several years.

On cross-examination, Lafleur testified that there was a driveway between 91 and 101 Baker Street which ran into a large parking area in the back. Lafleur stated that before Shurtliff's report, he was not aware that Adams had a reputation as a drug dealer. Lafleur stated that he had filed an application for a criminal complaint in District Court against Adams for assault and battery and a complaint against Barbara Adams for assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. He stated that Shurtliff went to Charlton Memorial Hospital for treatment of her injuries. Lafleur further testified that on June 12, he told Vice Squad Detective Donnelly that Shurtlieff stated that Adams was selling drugs. Lafleur opined that Donnelly had already put together a sufficient case against Adams to obtain a search warrant.

The next witness was Fall River Police Officer Joseph Donnelly who testified that he had been assigned to the narcotics unit for ten years. Donnelly stated that on June 13, 1996, he went to 1091 Rodman Street to execute a search warrant for narcotics at the Adams' first floor apartment. As he was knocking on the door of the apartment, Barbara Adams came from the porch into the hallway and stated that it was her apartment. After Donnelly showed her the warrant and explained her rights, he asked her if there were any narcotics on her person or in the apartment she had knowledge of and wanted to produce prior to the search. Barbara produced marijuana and crack cocaine. Donnelly testified that Julius Adams arrived at the apartment approximately fifteen minutes into the search. Detectives Correia and Officer Lafleur, who were waiting outside for his return, escorted Adams into the apartment. Donnelly showed him the warrant and explained his rights, then asked if there were any narcotics on his person or in the apartment he wanted to produce. Adams led the detectives into a bedroom and produced more crack cocaine and marijuana. Donnelly testified that in excess of sixteen grams of cocaine were seized from the apartment. Upon completion of the search, Adams was arrested and taken to the police station. Donnelly further testifed that he had not made any additions, deletions or changes to his search warrant application based on his conversation with Officer Lafleur. The application was based on information received and surveillance conducted over a two and one half day period prior to his conversation with Lafleur.

On cross-examination, Donnelly testified that the sixteen grams of cocaine found in the Adams apartment was considered trafficking in cocaine, a crime which carried a mandatory minimum sentence. He further testified that the search warrant for Adams' apartment was based on information from a confidential informant that Adams was dealing marijuana. Prior to the two and one half days before June 13 Donnelly did not have any personal knowledge that Adams was dealing drugs out of his apartment. Donnelly stated that he never sent anybody in to make a controlled buy at 1091 Rodman Street. The affidavit for the warrant was based entirely on the confidential informant and on police surveillance in which police observed people going onto the porch and into the house.

The next witness was Julius Adams, who testified that on June 13, 1996, police raided his apartment, seized a quantity of drugs and arrested him. He testified that when he returned to his apartment after his wife bailed him out of jail, the defendant was there. Adams told the defendant and his wife that he had learned the basis of the search warrant from police, and that someone had told police that they overheard Adams stating that Thursday would be a good day to see him. From this statement, Adams concluded that Sonia Shurtliff and David Allen were the confidential informants cited in the search warrant affidavit. Adams testified that he sold drugs to Shurtliff and Allen, who lived at 101 Baker Street. Adams stated that on April 10, 1996, he had an argument with Shurtliff and Allen which led to a fight, following which he told them that he didn't want anything else to do with them. Adams testified that he never sold drugs to Shurtliff and Allen after that date. Adams admitted that he and his wife hit Shurtliff during the argument, resulting in criminal charges against them.

Adams further testified that in June of 1996, he had a close relationship of "mutual respect" with the defendant. Adams stated that he was involved in drug dealing for six months to make ends meet after he stopped doing construction work due to a back injury, but stated that the defendant did not sell drugs for him. He testified that when he returned from jail, he told his wife, her friends, Jamal Sims, and the defendant that he believed that Shurtliff and Allen had told police he was selling drugs. Adams and the defendant drove to the Shell gas station on Plymouth Avenue to get cigarettes and then returned back to Rodman Street. The defendant asked Adams if he wanted to do anything about the fact that Shurtliff and Allen had talked to police, and Adams responded that he did not.

Adams testified that later that evening around midnight, he was on his front porch talking to his brother in law when he saw the defendant coming from the back of the building. The defendant, who appeared nervous, was dressed in black nylon sweat pants, a black sweatshirt and white glove liners which were reddish. When Adams asked what was up, the defendant replied, "I did it." Adams asked, "Did what?" to which the defendant responded, "Sonia and David." Adams testified that he asked why, but the defendant did not answer. The defendant went up the stairs and Adams entered the house. Adams was outside approximately fifteen minutes later when he saw the defendant exit the front door carrying a brown backpack. The defendant stated that he had to go do something, and Adams replied, "Well, do whatever you got to do." Adams testified that several days later, the defendant called him, and Adams told him that police wanted to talk to him about the killings at Baker Street. The following day, while driving the defendant to a lawyer's office, Adams told the defendant that police were asking questions about the defendant's involvement and that Adams had told police he didn't know anything. Adams testified that he was charged as a result of the drug raid, pled guilty and received a prison sentence of three to four years followed by three years probation. He stated that he was still serving that sentence.

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