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Commonwealth v. Laguer

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

January 29, 2016

COMMONWEALTH
v.
BENJAMIN LAGUER.

Heard Date November 18, 2015.

Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on August 4, 1983. A motion for a new trial, filed on April 28, 2011, was heard by Richard T. Tucker, J.

John H. LaChance for the defendant.

Sandra L. Hautanen, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

Present: Cohen, Grainger, & Wolohojian, JJ.

GRAINGER, J.

On January 30, 1984, Benjamin Laguer was convicted by a jury in Superior Court of unarmed robbery, breaking and entering in the nighttime with intent to commit a felony, assault and battery, and aggravated rape.[1] On appeal from a denial of the latest in a long series of motions[2] for a new trial, the defendant argues that the motion judge erred in finding that certain evidence, specifically testimony from the victim's caretaker and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) test results, did not warrant a new trial, and that he also erred in concurrently allowing the Commonwealth's motion to dismiss the defendant's latest motion for a new trial due to fraud on the court.

As was the case in previous motions considered in the Superior Court, then reviewed by this court and by the Supreme Judicial Court, the credibility of the defendant as well as that of the witnesses and the evidence presented on his behalf is central to the result. Accordingly we review the motion judge's recitation of findings, as well as the protracted history of this case, with emphasis on the degree of trustworthiness underlying the evidence proffered to support the defendant's claim "that justice may not have been done." Mass.R.Crim.P. 30(b), as appearing in 435 Mass. 1501 (2001).

Background.

The trial. The jury found that the defendant broke into the apartment of a fifty-nine year old woman, brutally assaulted her, and raped her over an eight-hour period. In so doing the jury rejected a defense of misidentification.

The identification evidence at trial was that the victim initially told the police she was unable to identify the perpetrator, only describing him as a short black male. The following day, however, she told the police that her assailant was the defendant, who lived in the next door apartment.[3] She also identified the defendant from a photograph array, and identified him as her assailant at trial.

Before trial, and because the victim had a history of mental health treatment, the defendant moved to obtain evidence of her mental health condition in order to determine her ability to testify. The trial judge privately reviewed the victim's treatment records for the six-month period surrounding the attack and her identification of the defendant, and determined that the records provided no basis to question the victim's competency to testify. However, the trial judge permitted the defendant to question the victim about her mental condition and any medication she was taking at the time of the attack and the identification.

No physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime scene was introduced at trial.[4] After a jury found him guilty of all charges, the defendant was sentenced to life on the rape charge and, on the other charges, received ...


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