Commonwealth v. Pierre, SJC-12154

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Writing for the CourtGAZIANO, J.
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Keron PIERRE.
Docket NumberSJC-12154
Decision Date15 December 2020

486 Mass. 418
159 N.E.3d 110

COMMONWEALTH
v.
Keron PIERRE.

SJC-12154

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk..

Argued May 4, 2020.
Decided December 15, 2020.


Alan J. Black, Springfield, for the defendant.

Paul B. Linn, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.1

GAZIANO, J.

486 Mass. 419
159 N.E.3d 113

On March 29, 2009, Chantal Palmer, Shakora Gaines, Anthony Peoples and Sharon Headley were sitting in a Nissan vehicle outside an after-hours establishment in Boston when five men, at least three of whom --the defendant, Devon Boswell, and Nigel Nichols -- were armed, walked around the corner of the building and in front of the vehicle. They approached the driver's side and attempted to converse with the women. The women did not respond. The defendant asked the driver for her telephone number. When she said she would not provide it, he pushed aside another of the men and fired nine rounds into the vehicle, killing Palmer, Gaines, and Peoples. Headley, who had been in the front passenger seat, ducked when the shooting started and later was able to jump from the vehicle and run behind a parked van where she remained until the men had gone.

The defendant was indicted on three counts of murder in the first degree, one count of armed assault with intent to murder, and unlawful possession of a firearm. He was tried and convicted of all charges. In this direct appeal, the defendant claims prejudicial error in the admission of prior bad act evidence and the substantive use of prior inconsistent grand jury testimony by one trial witness. The defendant contends as well that he received constitutionally ineffective assistance when his trial counsel declined to pursue the use of certain impeachment evidence against one witness after his initial objection. In addition, the defendant argues that the prosecutor's impermissible cross-examination of the defendant as to why he had not returned to the United States to defend himself from suspicion of having been the shooter violated his rights under art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and impermissibly shifted the burden of proof from the Commonwealth to him. The defendant also asks us to exercise our extraordinary authority under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, to reduce

486 Mass. 420

the verdict or to grant him a new trial. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the defendant's convictions and decline to exercise our authority to grant extraordinary relief.

1. Background. We summarize the facts presented to the jury in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, leaving particular facts for later discussion as necessary to address specific arguments.

a. Commonwealth's case. Two witnesses -- Headley, who had been in the Nissan but escaped uninjured, and Boswell,2 who had known the defendant for about one year and who formed part of the group of five at the victims' vehicle -- gave detailed and comprehensive testimony about the shooting and its immediate aftermath. Other partygoers described parts

159 N.E.3d 114

of the events in less detail but consistent with these descriptions.

The events took place outside an unofficial after-hours establishment run by a husband and wife from their home in the Dorchester section of Boston. They hosted parties on Friday and Saturday evenings in the basement of their home, where they also sold take-out food. The parties generally continued until about 3 A.M. Guests parked where they could find space in the residential neighborhood.

In the early morning hours of March 29, 2009, two groups of guests converged at the house. The first group, which included Gaines, Palmer, Peoples, Headley, and Terrence Johnson, arrived in a white Nissan driven by Palmer. The three women and Peoples had been at a club in Boston where they encountered Johnson, a close friend of Peoples, and all five decided to go to the after-hours party. Palmer parked around the corner from the house, and the occupants of the Nissan walked to the house and went into the basement. The second group, consisting of the defendant and two of his friends, Devon Boswell and Nigel Nichols, arrived at some point after having driven from a club in Providence. Boswell drove his own vehicle, while Nichols and

486 Mass. 421

the defendant arrived in Nichols's vehicle. The two groups did not interact with each other while they were in the house; indeed, none of the people in the first group had ever met the defendant before the night of the shooting.

Gaines, Palmer, Peoples, and Headley left the party sometime around 4 A.M. As they were getting ready to leave, they realized that Johnson was no longer with them. They walked to the Nissan, and Palmer then drove to the front of the house and stopped in the middle of the street to wait for Johnson. Headley was in the front passenger's seat, Peoples was in the rear passenger's seat behind Palmer, and Gaines was seated behind Headley; Peoples intended to telephone Johnson to come meet them.

As they pulled up in front of the house, a group of at least five men, including the defendant, Boswell, and Nichols, came around the corner from the party and approached the driver's side of the white Nissan; the defendant was wearing a sleeveless white T-shirt, and Boswell was wearing a gray "hoodie." The men, at least three of whom were carrying firearms (the defendant, Boswell, and Nichols), attempted to talk to the women. Boswell, who was standing between the front and rear doors on the driver's side, put his hands on the Nissan. The defendant was close to and slightly behind Boswell.

The group of men attempted to start a conversation with the women by asking, "What's good ladies?" or "What's good girls?" The women did not respond. From the rear seat, Peoples told the men, "They're good, they're straight." The defendant asked Palmer for her telephone number, but she declined to provide it. Peoples then asked the men, "Can you please back up off the car?" When they did not move, he said, "Back the fuck off the car."

The defendant responded by pushing Boswell out of the way and saying to Peoples, "What, n--? We're strapped." He then produced a handgun and pointed it at Peoples for three or four seconds, while Peoples looked at him. When Peoples turned his head away, the defendant shot him, then turned the weapon and fired at Palmer in the front seat. The defendant leaned in and continued firing, while Boswell ran to his vehicle as the defendant continued shooting.

When she heard the first shot, Headley ducked; from her vantage point in the front passenger's seat, she had been able

159 N.E.3d 115

to see only the shooter's torso. She told police that the shooter had

486 Mass. 422

been wearing a white T-shirt and added that she could see his arms so the shirt was sleeveless. After the shots ended, Headley was able to jump out of the vehicle and run for cover (a parked van), where she stayed a few minutes before returning to the after-party to get help. She was examined at the scene and found to be physically unharmed, but when she got to the police station, she discovered that one of the bullets had passed through her leather jacket, leaving two bullet holes.

The medical examiner later determined that Palmer had sustained four bullet wounds to her neck and torso, which, combined, caused her death; Gaines had sustained four bullet wounds to her torso and her arm, with the wound to her torso being fatal; and Peoples had sustained five bullet wounds, of which the wound to his torso was fatal. Most of the injuries moved from the left to the right sides of the victims' bodies; all of the shell casings and projectiles found in the vehicle or next to it had been fired by the same .40 caliber weapon.

On March 30, 2009, the day after the shootings, at the defendant's request, his fiancée's mother purchased for him an airline ticket to Trinidad, leaving on April 2 and returning on April 24, 2009. The defendant had a son in Trinidad, and he generally visited the country two times a year for three to five weeks. His fiancée's mother testified that the defendant had been paying her for the ticket over time, starting in March, for a planned trip in April. After a while, she realized that the defendant had not returned as scheduled, although he assured her during their telephone calls that he would be returning. Ultimately, the defendant remained in Trinidad until he was extradited to the United States in 2013 so that he could be tried in this case.

b. Defendant's case. The defendant testified on his own behalf. He said that he had gone to the after-hours party with Nichols and Boswell, a party he had attended frequently, and had arrived after 3 A.M. He had not had a firearm with him, nor had he been in possession of a firearm on any previous occasion. The defendant had arrived at the party wearing a black buttondown shirt with a purple pattern, but he had taken it off while waiting in...

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5 practice notes
  • Commonwealth v. Chalue, SJC-12457
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • February 23, 2021
    ...were admissible because these weapons could have been used in the commission of the crimes. See id. See also Commonwealth v. Pierre, 486 Mass. 418, 424, 159 N.E.3d 110 (2020) ("Evidence regarding a weapon that could have been used in the course of a crime is admissible, in the judge's discr......
  • Commonwealth v. Carter, SJC-11517, SJC-11518
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 2021
    ...to commit the crime ... may be admissible ‘to show that the defendant had access to or knowledge of firearms.’ " Commonwealth v. Pierre, 486 Mass. 418, 424, 159 N.E.3d 110 (2020), quoting Commonwealth v. McGee, 467 Mass. 141, 157, 4 N.E.3d 256 (2014). Even if evidence is relevant to this pu......
  • Commonwealth v. Fahey, No. 19-P-1487
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • March 15, 2021
    ...require a new trial when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming." McCravy, 430 Mass. at 765, 723 N.E.2d 517. Cf. Commonwealth v. Pierre, 486 Mass. 418, 434-435, 159 N.E.3d 110 (2020) (multiple errors by prosecutor in murder in first degree case did not create substantial likelihood of miscar......
  • Commonwealth v. Carter, SJC-11517
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 2021
    ...to commit the crime . . . may be admissible 'to show that the defendant had access to or knowledge of firearms.'" Commonwealth v. Pierre, 486 Mass. 418, 424 (2020), quoting Commonwealth v. McGee, 467 Mass. 141, 157 (2014). Even if evidence is relevant to this purpose, however, it will not b......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Chalue, SJC-12457
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • February 23, 2021
    ...were admissible because these weapons could have been used in the commission of the crimes. See id. See also Commonwealth v. Pierre, 486 Mass. 418, 424, 159 N.E.3d 110 (2020) ("Evidence regarding a weapon that could have been used in the course of a crime is admissible, in the judge's discr......
  • Commonwealth v. Carter, SJC-11517, SJC-11518
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 2021
    ...to commit the crime ... may be admissible ‘to show that the defendant had access to or knowledge of firearms.’ " Commonwealth v. Pierre, 486 Mass. 418, 424, 159 N.E.3d 110 (2020), quoting Commonwealth v. McGee, 467 Mass. 141, 157, 4 N.E.3d 256 (2014). Even if evidence is relevant to this pu......
  • Commonwealth v. Fahey, No. 19-P-1487
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • March 15, 2021
    ...require a new trial when the evidence of guilt is overwhelming." McCravy, 430 Mass. at 765, 723 N.E.2d 517. Cf. Commonwealth v. Pierre, 486 Mass. 418, 434-435, 159 N.E.3d 110 (2020) (multiple errors by prosecutor in murder in first degree case did not create substantial likelihood of miscar......
  • Commonwealth v. Carter, SJC-11517
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • August 16, 2021
    ...to commit the crime . . . may be admissible 'to show that the defendant had access to or knowledge of firearms.'" Commonwealth v. Pierre, 486 Mass. 418, 424 (2020), quoting Commonwealth v. McGee, 467 Mass. 141, 157 (2014). Even if evidence is relevant to this purpose, however, it will not b......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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