Commonwealth v. Robinson, SJC-08464

Decision Date31 July 2019
Docket NumberSJC-08464
Citation482 Mass. 741,128 N.E.3d 50
Parties COMMONWEALTH v. Charles ROBINSON.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

Joseph F. Krowski, Brockton, for the defendant.

Elizabeth A. Sweeney, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

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

BUDD, J.

On the evening of February 24, 2000, Edward Figueroa was found dead at his girlfriend's home. On August 21, 2000, the defendant was convicted of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty in connection with the victim's shooting death.1 After full consideration of the trial record and the defendant's arguments, we affirm the defendant's conviction, and we decline to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 33E.2

Background. We summarize the facts as the jury could have found them, reserving certain details for discussion of specific issues.

The victim, who lived with his girlfriend in Dennisport, was friends with, and sold marijuana for, the defendant. Because the victim's car was not registered, he had to rely on friends to drive him to the defendant's apartment in Fall River to pick up marijuana to sell, and sometimes had "a hard time getting a ride." One to two weeks prior to the victim's death, the victim received rides to Fall River from two different friends, one of whom observed the defendant in possession of a revolver approximately five days before the victim was killed.

On the evening of February 24, 2000, the defendant was visiting the victim at the victim's girlfriend's home in Dennisport. Hours before the victim was shot and killed, the victim's girlfriend overheard the defendant berating the victim for failing "to get [his] car on the road." Although the victim apologized, saying, "Sorry, Dog.... I didn't mean to offend you," the defendant told the victim, "I should slap your face. I should just punch you in the mouth." Sometime after 9 P.M. , the victim's girlfriend left the two men alone in the living room of the apartment.

At approximately 10:15 P.M. , two neighbors heard several gunshots, and a third neighbor heard a motor vehicle speeding away. The victim's girlfriend returned at approximately 10:30 P.M. , at which time she noticed that the defendant's car was gone and the front door to her apartment was partially open. When she entered the living room of the apartment, she saw that the victim was dead in a chair that had been tipped backward onto the floor.

The victim suffered two gunshot wounds

to his head, including through the left eye and the left temple. Blood spatter suggested that the victim was on his back on the ground when he was shot in the head by someone positioned to the victim's left. The wounds indicated that the firearm was between six inches and three feet from the victim's head when it was fired. The victim also had gunshot wounds to his left arm and right hand, his upper chest, and his left lower leg.

A ballistician determined that the five projectiles recovered from the victim's body were all .38 caliber and were consistent with having come from the same weapon, likely a revolver, as no shell casings were recovered from the scene.

Cell site location information (CSLI) indicated that the defendant made cellular telephone (cell phone) calls on the night of the murder between 11:29 P.M. and 1:41 A.M. The first of the calls was initiated in Mattapoisett. Investigators determined that it would have taken approximately fifty-nine minutes to travel from the victim's home to Mattapoisett. Thus, the defendant could have left the victim's apartment at approximately 10:15 P.M. and arrived in Mattapoisett approximately fourteen minutes before making his first telephone call at 11:29 P.M.

The defendant's girlfriend initially told investigators that the defendant had arrived at her apartment at 8 P.M. on the night of the murder. However, at trial she testified that she did not know what time the defendant had arrived at her home that night. She further testified that, on the morning following the murder, the defendant said to her, "I was here last night, right? ... About 8:00, right?" This caused her to believe something was going on, and to tell the police that he got home at 8 P.M. on February 24.

Weeks later, when the defendant was being held prior to trial, he had an argument with his cellmate, during which the defendant threatened to kill the cellmate. When the cellmate responded that the defendant was not going to kill him because the defendant did not have a gun, the defendant said essentially, "That's what the other guy thought."

The defendant's theory of the case was that a third party, Ryan Ferguson, killed the victim. On the night prior to his death, the victim punched Ferguson several times in the head as Ferguson sought to confront the defendant about the defendant's attempt to flirt with Ferguson's girlfriend. Ferguson later telephoned a friend seeking access to a firearm, and vowed to get revenge against the victim. However, there was no evidence that Ferguson ever obtained a firearm, and there was testimony from witnesses that he was with others at the time that the victim was killed.

Discussion. 1. Sufficiency of evidence. The defendant argues that the judge erred in failing to allow his motion for a required finding of not guilty at the close of the Commonwealth's case. He claims that the evidence presented was insufficient to support the conviction of murder in the first degree because his identification as the shooter was "left to speculation." In considering this claim, we must view the evidence presented at trial, together with reasonable inferences therefrom, in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth to determine whether any rational jury could have found each element of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. See Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 676-677, 393 N.E.2d 370 (1979). As discussed infra, we conclude that the Commonwealth met its burden with respect to proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was the killer and that he acted with premeditation as well as with extreme atrocity or cruelty.

We acknowledge that the identification evidence was circumstantial; however, "a conviction may rest upon circumstantial evidence alone, and the inferences a jury may draw from the relevant evidence need only be reasonable and possible," not "necessary or inescapable" (quotation and citation omitted). Commonwealth v. Martin, 467 Mass. 291, 312, 4 N.E.3d 1236 (2014). Here, the evidence presented would allow a rational fact finder to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant shot the victim several times with his revolver and fled to his girlfriend's home in Fall River. See Commonwealth v. Cohen, 412 Mass. 375, 380, 589 N.E.2d 289 (1992) ("absence of direct proof by way of an eyewitness who saw the defendant shoot the victims is not damaging to the Commonwealth's case so long as there is competent circumstantial evidence that establishes the defendant's guilt").

Testimony was presented that allowed the jury to conclude that the victim sold drugs for the defendant on a regular basis. Because the victim's car was unregistered, he relied on friends to drive him from Dennisport to where the defendant lived in Fall River to replenish his supply, and the victim sometimes had trouble with transportation. The jury could have inferred that the defendant was not happy with this arrangement, given the testimony from the victim's girlfriend that when the defendant came to visit the victim the defendant told her that he was there "to find out where [the victim's] head was at." The girlfriend further testified that the defendant expressed anger that the victim was unable to "get [his] car on the road," and threatened the victim with physical violence.

The victim's girlfriend left the defendant and the victim alone sometime after 9 P.M. on the night of the killing. At approximately 10:15 P.M. , neighbors heard gunshots and a motor vehicle speeding away. When the victim's girlfriend returned at approximately 10:30 P.M. , she found the defendant and his car gone, and the victim dead from gunshot wounds

. The Commonwealth introduced CSLI data that was consistent with its argument that the defendant shot the victim and thereafter traveled south to Fall River. In addition, the ballistic evidence indicated that the bullets removed from the victim's body were all of the same caliber and likely fired from the same weapon, a revolver; a witness testified to seeing the defendant with a revolver five days before the killing. See Commonwealth v. McGee, 467 Mass. 141, 155-156, 4 N.E.3d 256 (2014) (evidence that defendant possessed firearm consistent with weapon used in shooting admissible to demonstrate defendant had means to commit crime).

Moreover, the jury could infer that the evidence presented demonstrated consciousness of guilt. See Commonwealth v. Morris, 465 Mass. 733, 736-738, 991 N.E.2d 1081 (2013) (although consciousness of guilt alone not sufficient to sustain conviction, such evidence may be used, along with other evidence, to establish proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt). The defendant's girlfriend testified that on the morning following the murder, the defendant said, "I was here last night, right? ... About 8:00, right?," suggesting that he wanted investigators to believe that he arrived at her home much earlier than he actually did. In addition, two witnesses from the Barnstable County house of correction testified that, weeks after the shooting, the defendant alluded to having killed the victim.

Thus, the Commonwealth demonstrated that the defendant had the motive, opportunity, and means to kill the victim, as well as consciousness of guilt. See Commonwealth v. Emeny, 463 Mass. 138, 151, 972 N.E.2d 1003 (2012) (evidence sufficient to convict where Commonwealth provided evidence of motive, means, opportunity, and consciousness of guilt)....

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