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Commonwealth v. Chatman

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

March 16, 2016

Demond Chatman

         Argued December 11, 2015

         Indictment found and returned in the Superior Court Department on June 5, 2000.

         After review by this court, 466 Mass. 327 (2013), a motion for a new trial was heard by Barbara J. Rouse, J.

          Edward L. Hayden for the defendant.

          Cailin M. Campbell, Assistant District Attorney ( Mark T. Lee, Assistant District Attorney, with her) for the Commonwealth.

         Present: Gants, C.J., Cordy, Botsford, Lenk, & Hines, JJ.


          [46 N.E.3d 1013] Cordy, J.

          On February 10, 2000, police responded to a telephone call made by the defendant, Demond Chatman, reporting that his mother, the victim, had been shot. The defendant directed officers to the home of the victim's aunt, where the defendant was living. The police found the victim's body in the aunt's bedroom.

         On January 24, 2002, a jury returned a guilty verdict against the defendant on the charge of murder in the first degree. The defendant appealed, and, in May, 2008, during the pendency of that appeal, the [46 N.E.3d 1014] defendant filed a motion for a new trial on the ground that he had not been competent to stand trial. The motion judge, who was also the trial judge, denied the motion in October, 2011, after a nonevidentiary hearing. The defendant appealed.

         In September, 2013, we reversed the denial of the motion for a new trial and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing

Page 841

consistent with a newly established burden of proof on defendants who, postverdict, seek a new trial on the basis of incompetency when the issue was not raised or considered at the time of, or prior to, trial. See Commonwealth v. Chatman, 466 Mass. 327, 335-336, 339, 995 N.E.2d 32 (2013). In November, 2014, after four days of evidentiary hearings, the motion judge again denied the defendant's motion.

         Now before us for the second time, the defendant combines his direct appeal from his conviction with his challenge to the denial of his motion for a new trial.[1] He also requests relief pursuant to our authority under G. L. c. 278, § 33E. As we explain below, our review of the entire record discloses no basis on which to grant relief. We therefore affirm the defendant's conviction and the denial of his motion for a new trial.

         1. Background.

         a. The trial.

         We summarize the essential facts presented at trial, most of which are set forth in our decision in Chatman, 466 Mass. at 328-330. The defendant had a hostile relationship with his mother, the victim. On February 10, 2000, at 2:30 p.m., the defendant telephoned 911 to report that his mother had been shot. Earlier that day, between 11 a.m. and noon, the defendant had told the aunt that he was going to " work out" at Franklin Park. He also had asked her where she kept the mop and bucket, which he wanted to use to clean his room on his return.

         The Commonwealth presented a circumstantial case against the defendant at trial. A pathologist testified that, based on the rigidity of the victim's body at the time it was found, death occurred between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. There was evidence that the body had been moved to the aunt's bedroom, where the police first viewed it, including deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing that showed bloodstains belonging to the victim in the hallway, the bathroom, and the kitchen; in the defendant's bedroom, the defendant had left a bloody fingerprint. Further DNA testing indicated that blood found on the defendant's clothing and sneakers matched that of the victim. Bloody footprints were found in the bathroom, and the evidence indicated that washcloths had been used to soak up some of the blood.

         The defendant sought to rebut the evidence offered by the Commonwealth, and unsuccessfully presented an alibi defense

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tending to show that he was at Franklin Park at the time of the victim's death.

         b. The defendant's competency at trial.

         The issue of competency to stand trial was first raised six years after the trial in the defendant's May, 2008, motion for a new trial. Chatman, 466 Mass. at 327-328, 335-336.

         At the evidentiary hearing in 2014, the defendant called ten witnesses in support of his position: Ray Walden, Dr. Mark Hanson,[2] and Patricia Hilliard,[3] who treated [46 N.E.3d 1015] the defendant during his early teens and into his high school years; trial counsel, John Bonistalli; Sharon Church, who was co-counsel at the trial; and Drs. Marion Smith, Joseph Grillo,[4] Charles Drebing, Robert H. Joss, and Naomi Leavitt, mental health professionals who were responsible for either treating or diagnosing the defendant after trial.[5]

         Trial counsel Bonistalli testified that he began representing the defendant in 2000, and that he settled on an alibi defense based on his meetings with the defendant and his review of the police records. The defendant insisted that he did not commit the crime, so Bonistalli's reasonable doubt defense relied on the defendant's statements and his assistance in reviewing the facts to establish an alibi. The defendant did not report any of his mental health

Page 843

history to Bonistalli, and Bonistalli did not notice anything to suggest that the defendant was impaired by some mental illness. Bonistalli testified that he had the impression that he was communicating with the defendant, and that the defendant understood what Bonistalli was talking about and was aware of the charges pending against him and the significance of the trial. Bonistalli did not recall any significant participation from the defendant during the trial itself.

         Co-counsel Church's testimony related to about a two-week period, as she joined the defense team just a week before trial. Church testified that, in conversations with Bonistalli, the defendant insisted he did not commit the crime, but was instead at Franklin Park. The defendant also went on " tangents." During trial, the defendant sat silently and listened. Church concluded that the defendant did not actively assist in the preparation of the case, but did not offer an opinion as to the defendant's competency to do so.[6]

         Also admitted in evidence were reports written by licensed medical health counsellors Darren Sandler, who, on January 25 and 26, the two days following the defendant's conviction, interviewed the defendant at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI), Concord; and Carrie [46 N.E.3d 1016] Holowecki, who evaluated the defendant at MCI, Souza-Baranowski on January 30. Sandler indicated that the defendant presented as " calm," " cooperative," and " euthymic," while Holowecki reported that, though " nervous," the defendant was " alert," " oriented," and " logical," and had " good eye contact." Sandler reported that the defendant had many legal questions regarding his appeal and was in " shock" over his life sentence, remarking that it was " unbelievable." Neither noted any concern over any mental health issues until February 13, 2002, when Holowecki, in her second evaluation of the defendant, recorded that the defendant was experiencing " some paranoia" but remained " alert," " oriented," and " cooperative."

         Dr. Smith, a psychiatrist, testified that she evaluated the defendant on February 20, 2002. Smith eventually diagnosed the defendant with schizoaffective disorder, and she was concerned that the symptoms with which the defendant presented existed prior to his incarceration. Smith did not offer an opinion as to the

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defendant's competency at the time of ...

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