Commonwealth v. Ridley

CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
Citation491 Mass. 321,202 N.E.3d 1181
Docket NumberSJC-12751
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Kelly D. RIDLEY, Jr.
Decision Date17 February 2023

491 Mass. 321
202 N.E.3d 1181

Kelly D. RIDLEY, Jr.


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Barnstable.

Argued December 9, 2022
Decided February 17, 2023

Elizabeth Caddick, for the defendant.

Mary Nguyen, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Budd, C.J., Lowy, Cypher, Kafker, & Georges, JJ.


491 Mass. 322

At a house party, in the early morning hours of October 22, 2016, a series of verbal and physical fights broke out between a number of party attendees, including the eighteen year old defendant, Kelly D. Ridley, Jr., and the twenty-six year old victim, Thomas Russell. During a brawl between the defendant and the victim, the defendant stabbed the victim nine times in the torso and leg, ultimately killing him.

202 N.E.3d 1186

Following a jury trial, the defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on the theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty.1 Following his convictions, the defendant filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied.

In this consolidated appeal, the defendant argues that a new trial is required because (1) the judge excluded expert testimony on late adolescent brain development; (2) the prosecutor misstated the law of voluntary manslaughter during closing argument; (3) the judge failed to provide an instruction on involuntary manslaughter; and (4) the judge abused his discretion in responding to a jury question. Additionally, the defendant contends that, in light of his age at the time of the crimes and the current research on late adolescent brain development, we should extend the principles underlying Miller v. Alabama, 567 U.S. 460, 132 S.Ct. 2455, 183 L.Ed.2d 407 (2012), and its State law counterpart, Diatchenko v. District Attorney for the Suffolk Dist., 466 Mass. 655, 1 N.E.3d 270 (2013), S.C., 471 Mass. 12, 27 N.E.3d 349 (2015) ( Diatchenko I ), and conclude that his sentence of life without the possibility of parole violates art. 26 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Finally, the defendant asks us to exercise our authority under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, and reduce his conviction of murder in the first degree to murder in the second degree or voluntary manslaughter.

We conclude that there was no reversible error. After thorough review of the record, we further discern no reason to exercise our extraordinary authority under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, to reduce the verdict to a lesser degree of guilt or order a new trial.

Background. 1. Trial. We recite the facts as the jury could have found them.

On the evening of October 21, 2016, the victim and his cousin, David Gonsalves, went to a local bar and met up with a group of

491 Mass. 323

the victim's friends, including Joseph France and Magnum Desouza. Priscilla Coelho, a friend of both the victim and the defendant, also was at the bar that night. She invited the victim and his group of friends to a house party hosted by the defendant.

The group proceeded to the defendant's house after the bar closed. A dispute arose in the kitchen shortly after the victim arrived at the party, which ultimately caused a disagreement between the victim and another party attendee, Ricky Powell. This disagreement eventually escalated to a physical altercation between the victim and Powell outside in the street in front of the house. A crowd of people followed the two outside to watch them fight.

At some point during the fight between the victim and Powell, the defendant attempted to jump into the fray. Gonsalves eventually became involved as well, and a physical altercation ensued between the defendant and Gonsalves; the two wrestled each other on the ground, throwing punches, while "talking trash." France ultimately broke up the fight between the victim and Powell, and Desouza separated the defendant and Gonsalves. In doing so, Desouza attempted to calm the defendant down, but he appeared "determined."

After both physical altercations seemingly ended, the victim walked up the driveway toward the house. The defendant then "came out of nowhere" and struck the victim on his head or upper back with a

202 N.E.3d 1187

metal scooter. The defendant remarked, "How do you like that, bitch?" Upon being struck with the scooter, the victim appeared "shocked." He stumbled a bit, turned around, and threw the defendant in the bushes, stating words to the effect of, "Go inside little man." The defendant ran to the steps of the house and started shouting that he was going to get his gun. Gonsalves returned the shouting, "calling [the defendant's] bluff," and taunting the defendant that he was not going to follow through.

As the victim, Desouza, and Gonsalves walked down the driveway to leave, the defendant came out of the house, now shirtless, holding a five to six inch bladed knife in his right hand. The defendant began waving the knife around, asking, "Who wants it?" The defendant proceeded to the end of the driveway and chased Gonsalves into the middle of the street with the knife. The victim, who had walked farther away at this point, turned and ran toward the defendant. The defendant still was holding the knife; the victim was unarmed. The victim threw a punch at the defendant, and a physical fight between the two followed. During

491 Mass. 324

this fight, the defendant swung both of his fists repeatedly into the victim's midsection, including the fist that was holding the knife. The defendant stabbed the victim nine times, striking both the torso and the left leg. Michael James, a "father-like figure" to the defendant,2 attempted to break up the fight by grabbing the defendant, and the defendant stabbed James in the stomach. Once the defendant and the victim were separated, the defendant ran inside the house.

The victim took a couple steps before falling to the ground and exclaiming, "I got stabbed." Desouza and France came to his aid. The victim's abdomen and pants were covered in blood, and there was a hole in his stomach and groin area. His intestines were protruding from his body. The victim still was awake, with his eyes wide open, and he was holding his stomach. He looked France in the eyes, while France held his hand. France attempted to talk to the victim and keep him awake, but the victim, struggling to breathe, could not respond. The victim remained conscious for a period of time, but when police and paramedics arrived, the victim was unconscious and nonresponsive. The paramedics transported the victim to a hospital, where he later died of his stab wounds. An autopsy revealed that all nine stab wounds contributed to his death, but two had the potential to be fatal to the exclusion of the others.

At some point before police and paramedics arrived at the scene, the defendant fled out the back door of the house. He traveled to a number of locations before eventually being found by police the next day while being treated for minor injuries at the same hospital where the victim died.

2. Prior proceedings. The defendant was indicted by a grand jury on charges of murder in the first degree of the victim, assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon (metal scooter) against the victim, and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon (knife) against James. Before trial, the defendant moved in limine to admit expert testimony regarding the general characteristics of adolescent brain development. The judge excluded the testimony, and trial commenced in October 2018.

202 N.E.3d 1188

At trial, the defendant conceded that he stabbed and killed the

491 Mass. 325

victim,3 but argued that the killing was voluntary manslaughter based on heat of passion induced by reasonable provocation or sudden combat. The defendant was found guilty on all of the indictments and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on the charge of murder in the first degree, as statutorily required, G. L. c. 265, § 2, and to two concurrent sentences of from eight to ten years on the charges of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon. The defendant timely appealed. Following his conviction, the defendant moved for a new trial, arguing that the judge erred in responding to a jury question about the Commonwealth's burden of proof, that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to object to the judge's response, and that his sentence of life without the possibility of parole was unconstitutional. The defendant's motion was denied, and his appeal from the denial of his motion for a new trial was consolidated with his direct appeal.

Discussion. 1. Expert testimony. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion in limine to admit expert testimony by Dr. Frank DiCataldo on adolescent brain development "to provide the jury with some background of the general mental development of someone in their late adolescence," to assist them in determining whether the defendant possessed the requisite intent to commit murder. In support of his motion, the defendant...

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1 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Perry
    • United States
    • Appeals Court of Massachusetts
    • May 25, 2023
    ...of probable harmful consequences to another as to amount to wanton or reckless conduct" (citation omitted). Commonwealth v. Ridley, 491 Mass. 321, 330 (2023). Wanton or reckless conduct "involves a high degree of likelihood that substantial harm will result to another." Commonwealth v. Wela......

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