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Commonwealth v. The Ngoc Tran

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

April 10, 2015

Commonwealth
v.
The Ngoc Tran

Argued December 5, 2014.

Page 180

Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on June 16, 2011.

The cases were tried before David Ricciardone, J.

Stephen Neyman for the defendant.

Michael A. Kaneb, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Cordy, Duffly, & Lenk, JJ.

OPINION

[27 N.E.3d 1264] Cordy, J.

On April 28, 2011, Son Ngoc Tran was found dead in her home. The cause of her death was multiple blunt-impact injuries to her head and brain inflicted by a rubber-headed mallet. Dispatched to the scene to investigate, Lowell police officers discovered the victim in a pool of blood in her bathroom and her husband, the defendant, sobbing in the living room. As one officer approached, the defendant raised his hands and said, " I killed my wife."

The defendant was charged with murder in the first degree and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon on a person sixty years of age or older. He filed a motion to suppress statements he made in an interview with police investigators shortly after his arrest, which was denied following an evidentiary hearing. At trial, the Commonwealth proceeded with respect to the murder charge on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity and cruelty. The defense was not lack of criminal responsibility, but the defendant's lack of the mental capacity to specifically intend his actions or to act in a cruel or atrocious manner. A Middlesex County jury found the defendant guilty on both charges.[1]

On appeal, the defendant claims several errors. We reject each contention and find no reversible error arising from the defendant's various claims. Further, we conclude that there is no basis for exercising our authority under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, to reduce the verdict of murder to a lesser degree of guilt or order a new trial. Accordingly, we affirm the defendant's convictions.

Background.

We recite the facts in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, reserving certain details for our analysis of the issues raised on appeal.

At approximately 7 p.m. on April 28, 2011, the defendant called

Page 181

Man Le,[2] a family friend, and asked her to come to his house the following day with his son, McKinley Tran. There was nothing unusual in the defendant's tone of voice, and when Man asked the defendant why he wanted her to visit he told her, " It's a secret." The defendant also called McKinley directly and asked him to come to his house the next day, stating, " You will find out [why] when you come over."

Sometime after these telephone calls, the defendant entered the bathroom of the [27 N.E.3d 1265] home he shared with the victim in Lowell, armed with a metal-shafted, rubber-headed hammer. The defendant proceeded to use the mallet to attack the victim with repeated blows to her head. After the victim was knocked to the floor, the defendant continued to strike her with the hammer on her face, skull, neck, arms, and legs until she was dead. The attack caused fractures to her skull, eye sockets, and cheekbones, multiple contusions to her brain, and numerous other injuries to her arms, legs, and extremities. Each of these injuries was inflicted while the victim was still alive.

At approximately 9 p.m., the defendant telephoned Man a second time and said, " I killed her dead." He then asked Man to inform his son of this by telephone. At this point, the defendant's voice sounded " different," and he instructed Man, " [C]all the police. Come cuff me." He explained that he attempted to report the murder at a nearby police station, but it was closed.

Alerted by Man, McKinley and his wife, Chan Le,[3] drove to the defendant's house and arrived shortly after 9 p.m. On entering the house, Chan found the defendant sitting on the living room couch. The defendant was surrounded by several chairs, which bore hand-lettered signs in both English and Vietnamese warning of the risk of electric shock. The victim was found dead on the bathroom floor. There was blood all over the bathroom, as well as on the defendant's pants, shirt, face, and hands. The defendant told Chan that he had killed the victim and asked not to be touched because he was " someone with guilt."

The defendant had planned to kill himself after killing the victim. He had written his children a five-page letter, blaming the victim for treating him poorly and for " heartlessly shatter[ing] the happiness of [the] ...


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