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Commonwealth v. Winquist

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Plymouth

June 14, 2016

COMMONWEALTH
v.
JAMES S. WINQUIST.

          Heard: March 8, 2016.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on September 28, 2007. The cases were tried before Richard J. Chin, J.

         After review by the Appeals Court, the Supreme Judicial Court granted leave to obtain further appellate review.

          Leslie W. O'Brien for the defendant.

          Mary E. Lee, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: GANTS, C.J., SPINA, CORDY, BOTSFORD, DUFFLY, LENK, & HINES, JJ.

          SPINA, J.

         On May 9, 2005, the badly decomposed bodies of two homeless men, subsequently identified as William Chrapan and David Lyon, were discovered inside an abandoned ammunition bunker located in Bare Cove Park in Hingham. The cause of death for each man was blunt force trauma and "semi-sharp" injuries to the head. In addition, Chrapan was missing his right hand, which was found two months later by two men walking their dogs in Bridgewater. The defendant, James S. Winquist, was indicted by a grand jury on September 28, 2007, on two counts of murder, G. L. c. 265, § 1. Following a jury trial in the Superior Court in September, 2012, he was convicted of two counts of murder in the second degree. The defendant was sentenced to concurrent terms of life in prison. On appeal, he argued that (1) two out-of-court statements made by Eric Snow, [1] a purported joint venturer in the murders, were erroneously admitted against the defendant under the joint venture exception to the hearsay rule;[2](2) the trial judge erred in denying his midtrial request for a hearing pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154 (1978); (3) the prosecutor's closing argument was improper; and (4) a key witness was incompetent to testify. The Appeals Court affirmed the judgments. Commonwealth v. Winquist, 87 Mass.App.Ct. 695, 696 (2015). We granted the defendant's application for further appellate review, limited to the issue of the admissibility of Snow's out-of-court statements. As to that issue, we conclude that the statements properly were admitted.[3]

         1. Background.

         The facts as they could have been found by the jury are set forth in the decision of the Appeals Court. See Id. at 696-699. We reiterate the pertinent details.

         Snow and the defendant were members of the "Brotherhood of Blood" (Brotherhood), a small neo-Nazi group of friends that "look[ed] out for each other" and shared "white pride beliefs." One day in April, 2005, the defendant, his girl friend, Snow, and Kelly Burgess, a woman with whom Snow and the defendant were friends, were walking in Bare Cove Park when they encountered Chrapan and Lyon. When Burgess offered them some money to buy coffee, Snow slapped the money from her hand and made disparaging comments about the two homeless men.

         A day or two later, at around 11 P.M., Snow asked Burgess to drive him and the defendant down the street. She gave them a ride to a grocery store parking lot that was across the street from Bare Cove Park, and Snow asked her to return thirty minutes later to pick them up. Within a few minutes of Burgess's return to the parking lot, Snow and the defendant emerged from Bare Cove Park and got into Burgess's motor vehicle. She drove them back to the defendant's house, where they all went downstairs to the basement.

         Burgess saw that Snow was covered in blood, and the defendant had blood on the bottom of his pants and boots. Each man was carrying a baseball bat; bloody spikes protruded from the bat in Snow's hands. Snow and the defendant changed clothes, putting their bloody clothes and the bats in a bag on the floor. Snow told the defendant to "get rid of them, " and the defendant responded that he would. Burgess asked Snow what he was talking about, and he replied that it was none of her business. Shortly thereafter, right before Snow and Burgess left the house, Burgess heard Snow tell the defendant that he (the defendant) had "made his bones." Among members of the Brotherhood, this expression referred to "killing somebody, putting in work that would prove you were worthy" of membership in the group. Burgess proceeded to drive Snow to his mother's house in Bridgewater, behind which Snow buried a bag containing a human hand. Then, they parted company. Several weeks later, the defendant telephoned Burgess and told her that two bodies had been found in Bare Cove Park.

         In December, 2006, Snow, who was then in prison serving an unrelated sentence, wrote a letter to the defendant expressing his concern that Burgess, whom he referred to as "Bigfoot, " was plotting against them, and stating that "she obviously knows way too much and needs to be taken under soil."[4] Snow also stated that Burgess was "the type of individual that sold her own kids out for crack, " and that "hopefully we'll get lucky and they'll just die on their own." On April 26, 2007, Snow wrote another letter to the defendant on the occasion of the second anniversary of the murders. In this letter, Snow wrote, "You made your bones while the rest smoked them." Suspecting that certain of their friends wanted "to see [them] go down for eternity" and were planning to tell the police about the murders, Snow also wrote, "[W]e know who the real threats are and what needs to become of them." He provided the defendant with the address of Burgess and her roommate, Jack Amaral, on East Main Street in Brockton, and he instructed the defendant to "make sure you take out [Amaral's son] as well."

         One evening in June, 2007, the defendant drove to the address provided by Snow. Amaral observed the defendant parking his vehicle and opening its trunk, in which he saw a white, five-gallon bucket. Amaral ran down the stairs from his third-floor apartment, and as the defendant, who had nothing in his hands, started to climb up the stairs, Amaral confronted him. The defendant told Amaral that Snow had sent him there to burn down the house because Snow had concerns ...


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