Heard: February 1, 2016.
found and returned in the Superior Court Department on
September 29, 2011.
case was tried before Raymond J. Brassard, J.
L. Fishman for the defendant.
Matthew T. Sears, Assistant District Attorney (Ursula A.
Knight, Assistant District Attorney, with him) for the
Present: Trainor, Meade, & Sullivan, JJ.
jury trial, the defendant, John Lacoy, was convicted of
murder in the second degree. See G. L. c. 265, § 1. On
appeal, he contends that (1) the Commonwealth's exercise
of two of its peremptory challenges violated art. 12 of the
Massachusetts Declaration of Rights and the equal protection
clause of the United States Constitution; (2) trial counsel
was ineffective; (3) prior bad acts were admitted in error;
and (4) the judge erred by declining to instruct the jury on
sudden combat theory of voluntary manslaughter and
involuntary manslaughter. We affirm.
recite the facts as the jury could have found them, noting
facts that are disputed, and reserving certain details for
our analysis of the issues raised on appeal.
defendant and the victim, Casey Taylor, met in a homeless
shelter. After the defendant found an apartment with two
other men, Taylor stayed with him overnight from time to
time. The landlord eventually told the defendant that
Taylor was not to come to the house any more. The defendant
did not allow Taylor to leave the bedroom or make noise on
those nights when the landlord was at home, and required
Taylor to urinate in a bottle.
men were alcoholics. Over the course of the two years that
they knew each other, Taylor sought out the defendant after
the defendant's Social Security disability check had
arrived. Taylor wanted money to purchase alcohol. When the
defendant received his disability check, the two men were
seen on the back porch of the apartment with large bottles of
vodka for days at a time. When the alcohol was gone, Taylor
defendant told friends that he was interested in Taylor
sexually, even though Taylor was straight. Nine months before
Taylor's death, in a recorded telephone call, the
defendant told a friend that he had put pills in the
victim's vodka because he wanted to "molester"
him. The defendant, who testified at trial,
admitted that he drugged Taylor because he felt used, and
that he was angry. The defendant also admitted that he
sexually assaulted Taylor after Taylor drank too much and
"blacked out." He tried to justify his actions by
pointing to Taylor's habit of using the defendant for his
money. He also said that sex was sometimes consensual.
defendant referred to the victim as a leech, meaning, in the
defendant's words at trial, "he used me a lot"
and "he wanted me for my money." At trial, the
defendant admitted that he had threatened to beat up the
victim, to hit him over the head with a beer bottle, and to
steal his money. Several months before the murder he told one
friend, "If he shows up here I'll murder him."
night of July 31, 2011, the defendant and Taylor were alone
in the defendant's bedroom. A neighbor overheard part of
an argument coming from the bedroom, during which the
defendant yelled, "I'm sick of you being a leech[.]
I'm sick of supporting you[.] [L]ook at you now[.]
I'm feeding you now." There was an altercation,
during which the defendant stabbed Taylor in the chest with a
knife, perforating his heart. Taylor cried out, "Call
9-." Instead of calling for help, the defendant dragged
Taylor out of the bedroom, down the stairs, and outside the
house, and left him to die underneath a latticework enclosure
around the stairs that led to the back porch.
defendant then went back to the bedroom where the stabbing
had taken place. He flipped over the bloody mattress, removed
and disposed of the bloody sheets and the knife, and fled.
Nine days later, Taylor's decomposing body was discovered
after several complaints were lodged that a foul,
"nauseating" smell was coming from somewhere near
the defendant's residence.
cause of death was a single stab wound to the heart. At
trial, the issue before the jury was whether the killing was
committed with the requisite intent to sustain a charge of
murder in the second degree or involuntary manslaughter, or
whether the killing was done in self-defense or was
a place to go and wanting to "hide, " the defendant
checked himself into Beth Israel Hospital, professing to be
suicidal. His stated reason for admission was
that he felt depressed and drank too much, and too many
people were leeching off him. Once admitted, the defendant
told a nurse about the stabbing. The defendant said that he
had become "annoyed" with Taylor when Taylor had
asked him to buy more vodka, and that he then punched Taylor.
Taylor bit the defendant's finger and punched the
defendant, and the defendant then stabbed Taylor, who ran
away. He told a similar story to a friend, claiming that
Taylor had run away. He told another friend that he and
Taylor had passed out on the beach and that Taylor may have
been swept out with the tide.
his stay at the hospital, the defendant sent an electronic
mail (e-mail) message to a friend stating "I heard they
found Taylo[r's] courpse [sic][.] I'm
glad[.] No[w] he will not leach [sic] off me
anymore[.]" The e-mail was sent six days before
Taylor's body was discovered by the police.
defendant lied to his friends about Taylor's whereabouts,
and about how (and whether) Taylor had died, even after
Taylor's body was discovered at the defendant's
residence on August 9, 2011. Recorded telephone calls were
introduced at trial, in which the defendant admitted to
killing Taylor and said that he would "make stuff
up." On August 16, 2011, fifteen days after
the killing, and seven days after the discovery of the body,
he admitted to one friend that he had "got [Taylor] once
. . . right under the heart" and "dragged him down
the back stairs, threw him underneath."
theory of the defense was that the stabbing was either in
self-defense or accidental. The defendant testified that he
purchased alcohol on the day of the killing. He and Taylor
drank together at the defendant's home, and then went to
the beach and drank some more. Upon their return to the
defendant's home, the defendant prepared chicken for the
two of them. He brought the plate of chicken, together with a
knife and fork, to the defendant's bedroom, where Taylor
was waiting. Complaining that he wanted more "booze,
" Taylor threw the plate of food across the bedroom, and
then attacked the defendant with a metal box fan, hitting him
in the shoulder and the side of his head. Taylor jumped on
top of the defendant, tried to strangle him, and bit one of
his fingers. At that point, the defendant pulled his finger
from Taylor's mouth, and the knife that the defendant
brought with the chicken "fell into his body
accidentally." The defendant also testified that he
stabbed Taylor "to get him off of me" and that he
was "protecting himself from getting killed."
defendant contends that the judge's allowance of the
Commonwealth's peremptory challenges of an
African-American female juror (juror 165) and a gay
African-American male juror (juror 179) denied him his right
to a jury selection process free from invidious
discrimination. "The use of peremptory challenges to
exclude prospective jurors solely because of bias presumed to
derive from their membership in discrete community groups is
prohibited both by art. 12 [of the Massachusetts Declaration
of Rights] . . . and the equal protection clause [of the
United States Constitution]." Commonwealth
v. Issa, 466 Mass. 1, 8 (2013) (citations and
quotation omitted). See Commonwealth v.
Soares, 377 Mass. 461, 486-488, cert, denied, 444 U.S.
881 (1979); Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79
(1986) (Batson). "The Constitution forbids
striking even a single prospective juror for a discriminatory
purpose." Foster v. Chatman, 136 S.Ct.
1737, 1747 (2016) (quotation omitted).
defendant may "object to the use of a peremptory
challenge without regard to whether the defendant and the
excused juror are of the same race." Sanchez
v. Roden, 753 F.3d 279, 292 (1st Cir. 2014), citing
United States v. Mensah, 737 F.3d 789, 797
(1st Cir. 2013), cert, denied, 134 S.Ct. 1912 (2014). See
Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S. 400, 402 (1991)
(Powers). The defendant is entitled to a choice of
jurors free of the taint of racial bias. Miller-El
v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 237-238 (2005). The
defendant is also entitled to assert the right of each juror
to sit under the equal protection clause of the United States
Constitution. Powers, supra at 415.
is a presumption that the exercise of a peremptory challenge
is proper. That presumption may be rebutted, however, if [the
objecting party shows] that (1) there is pattern of excluding
members of a discrete group; and (2) it is likely that
individuals are being excluded solely because of their
membership in this group." Commonwealth v.
Benoit, 452 Mass. 212, 218 (2008) (Benoit). In
addition, "[a] single peremptory challenge may be
sufficient to make a prima facie showing, " where the
circumstances of the challenge so indicate. Ibid.
"Once an issue is raised concerning an improper use of a
peremptory challenge, 'the judge must make a finding as
to whether a prima facie showing of an improper use . . . has
been made.'" Commonwealth v.
Rodriguez, 457 Mass. 461, 471 (2010)
(Rodriguez), quoting from Commonwealth
v. Maldonado, 439 Mass. 460, 463 (2003)
showing is made, the burden shifts to the party making the
peremptory challenge to "provide a group-neutral
reason." Benoit, supra at 219
(citation omitted). The proponent of the challenge "must
give a 'clear and reasonably specific' explanation of
his 'legitimate reasons' for exercising the
challenges." Commonwealthv. Burnett,
418 Mass. 769, 771 (1994), quoting from Batson,
supra at 98 n.20. To be bona fide, reasons must be
both "adequate" and "genuine."
Benoit, supra at 219-220. "The judge
should make 'specific findings' or provide an
'explanation' ascertainable to an appellate court
concerning whether the reason for ...