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Commonwealth v. Chappell

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

November 23, 2015

Deshawn Chappell

Argued September 11, 2015

Page 192

 Indictment found and returned in the Superior Court Department on March 24, 2011.

The case was tried before by Jeffrey A. Locke, J.

Stephen Neyman for the defendant.

Matthew T. Sears, Assistant District Attorney ( Edmund J. Zabin, Assistant District Attorney, with him) for the Commonwealth.

Present: Gants, C.J., Spina, Botsford, Duffly, & Hines, JJ.


[40 N.E.3d 1033] Botsford, J.

On January 20, 2011, Stephanie Moulton, a residential counsellor at a mental health facility in Revere, was killed while she was at work. The defendant, a resident of the facility, was charged with her murder. Principally at issue at the defendant's subsequent jury trial was his mental state at the time of the killing; the defendant presented a defense of lack of criminal responsibility. On October 28, 2013, the jury found the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree on the theory of deliberate premeditation.

In his appeal from the conviction, the defendant argues that the trial judge erred by (1) permitting the Commonwealth to present evidence concerning deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing through an expert witness who had not performed the DNA testing herself; (2) impermissibly limiting the direct examination of the defendant's primary mental health expert witness; (3) providing the jury with an inadequate instruction regarding the consequences of a verdict of not guilty by reason of lack of criminal responsibility; and (4) failing to limit the jury's consideration of evidence of consciousness of guilt solely to the issue of the defendant's mental state at the time the crime was committed. He also requests relief under G. L. c. 278, § 33E. We affirm the defendant's conviction, and after a thorough review of the record, we decline to grant relief pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 33E.

1. Background.[1]

a. The offense.

We summarize the facts the jury could have found. Prior to January, 2011, the defendant [40 N.E.3d 1034] was a resident of Perkins House, a moderate-intensity, residential mental health facility in the Charlestown section of Boston.[2] Following an altercation between the defendant and another

Page 193

resident at that facility, the defendant was transferred temporarily to a respite program and, on January 3, 2011, he moved to Seagull House, a low-intensity group home in Revere for adults with mental illness.[3] Seagull House staff helped residents to obtain basic social skills and skills required for residents eventually to be able to live on their own. Seagull House was a " closed house," meaning that, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., residents were not allowed to stay inside the facility but were expected to go to jobs or attend mental health group programs in the community.

On January 20, 2011, despite the closed house policy, the defendant remained at Seagull House past 9 a.m. because he was scheduled to have a meeting at 1 p.m. with his " team," a group that included the victim and her supervisor, Colette Deneumostier.[4] Deneumostier arrived at Seagull House at approximately 8:30 a.m. on January 20, but left shortly thereafter to perform work-related errands. The victim also arrived around the same time or a little later. When the Seagull House staff member who had been in charge of the facility the previous night left sometime after 9 a.m., the victim and the defendant were the only two people remaining. At approximately 10 a.m., Deneumostier spoke to the victim by telephone; at no point during that conversation did the victim report any concerns about the defendant's mental status. Deneumostier tried to contact the victim by telephone again several times before she (Deneumostier) returned to Seagull House at 11:30 a.m., but the calls went unanswered.

When Deneumostier arrived at the facility, she heard the fire alarm sounding, saw smoke, and telephoned the Revere fire department or 911. When fire fighters and police officers responded, they found no one inside the building, but they did observe a stove with two jets left on the high setting, one of which had smoke emanating from it; burnt paper on the kitchen floor; and charred debris in one of the bedrooms, including a gray, left boot. In addition, there was a large amount of blood on the floor in the

Page 194

hallway, which appeared to be a drag mark that continued down the hallway and outside to the parking lot, where a spot of blood and a blood-soaked paper towel were found. Under the bed in the defendant's bedroom police found a crumpled note that stated:

" Babycake, what ups? I still want to kick with you when I get something house next year. Are you down with that? How the kids? WB if you can. Can you go somewhere, kick with me, movies, out to eat?"

Below that writing was a message in the victim's handwriting that read: " Not just [40 N.E.3d 1035] because I work here, but for many reasons, this is inappropriate." Police also recovered from an office located in the lower portion of the building a green notebook that contained the victim's handwriting; at the time it was recovered, the notebook was opened to a page referencing the defendant.

At approximately 12:30 p.m. the same day, the victim's body was found in the parking lot of St. George's Greek Orthodox Church (St. George's) in Lynn.[5] The victim's pants and underwear were pulled down, and she was wearing one gray boot on her right foot that matched the left boot recovered from Seagull House; her left foot was bare other than a white sock. The victim's body was covered with a bed sheet that came from the defendant's bedroom at Seagull House. The victim had sustained sharp force injuries to her neck and blunt impact injuries to her head, torso, and upper extremities, but the cause of death was blood loss attributable to a long slash wound to the neck, which severed the sternocleidomastoid muscle, the jugular veins, and the carotid arteries.

Video surveillance from St. George's dated January 20, 2011, showed a vehicle, identified as belonging to the victim, enter the St. George's parking lot at approximately 11:32 a.m., drive to the area where the victim was later found, and leave the parking lot at approximately 11:34 a.m. The video recording also showed that, while the vehicle was parked, an individual stepped out of the driver's side, made a path around the rear of the vehicle to the passenger's side, returned to the driver's side, proceeded once more to the passenger's side, and eventually drove away.[6]

Page 195

Around 1 p.m. on January 20, 2011, the defendant visited a cousin in the Dorchester section of Boston and asked her for some money and a place to stay for a couple of days; he was unsuccessful in securing either one. During the visit, the defendant's cousin saw a brown stain on the defendant's pants and a brownish or red stain on the defendant's sweatshirt, and she noticed that he kept his hands covered with his sleeves. When the defendant left the house, he was seen standing in front of the victim's vehicle, which he later abandoned. After leaving his cousin's house, the defendant went to a clothing store where he stole a white hooded sweatshirt and a hat, and then traveled by train to Braintree and inquired about an extended-stay room at a hotel. He then telephoned his grandmother, who lived in the Roxbury section of Boston, and asked if he could come to her house, insisting that he did not kill the victim and that his previous girl friend did,[7] and later traveled by public transportation to the building where his grandmother lived.

Police officers were waiting for the defendant in the lobby of his grandmother's building, his grandmother having informed the police of his impending arrival. Following some resistance, the defendant was arrested and taken into custody. Police [40 N.E.3d 1036] officers handcuffed the defendant and placed him in a chair in the lobby. While the defendant was seated, and as a police officer was administering Miranda warnings to him, the defendant blurted out, " The Chinese kid did it." The defendant did not otherwise exhibit bizarre or psychotic behavior or appear or sound delusional during the time he was in the lobby.

The defendant was transported to a Boston police station and then to the police station in Revere. During the trip to Revere, the defendant was quiet and calm, but crying, and when asked if he was all right, he said that people had been chasing him all day with guns and that he was worried for his family. He was asked if he knew why he was in police custody, and he responded that it was " because of what happened at the house." Testing of a sample of blood ...

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