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Commonwealth v. Gulla

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

April 5, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
ROBERT GULLA.

          Heard: January 10, 2017.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on March 4, 2010.

         The cases were tried before Thomas P. Billings, J., and a motion for a new trial, filed on October 29, 2014, was heard by him.

          Stephen Paul Maidman for the defendant.

          Jamie Michael Charles, Assistant District Attorney (Casey E. Silvia, Assistant District Attorney, also present) for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Botsford, Lenk, Hines, & Budd, JJ. [1]

          BUDD, J.

         The defendant, Robert Gulla, was convicted of murder in the first degree of the victim on the theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty.[2] In this appeal, [3] the defendant asserts that he was denied effective assistance of counsel and a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense, as well as denied a fair trial based on the judge's failure to give certain jury instructions. The defendant also seeks relief under G. L. c. 278, § 33E. After full consideration of the record and the defendant's arguments, we affirm the defendant's convictions and the denial of his motion for a new trial, and decline to grant extraordinary relief pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 33E.

         Background.

         We summarize the evidence that the jury could have found, reserving certain details for discussion of specific issues. On January 23, 2010, the defendant beat, strangled, stabbed, and shot the victim, killing her. The victim's homicide was the culmination of a short but violent relationship between the two. The defendant met the victim, who was attending a State university, in early September of 2009 at a college party; the defendant was not a student there. Soon thereafter they began a dating relationship.

         On September 25, 2009, an altercation between the victim and the defendant in her dormitory led campus police to escort the defendant off campus and issue a no-trespass order. Approximately one and one-half weeks later, the victim lodged a complaint with police after the two had an argument and the defendant pushed her out of his truck and drove away, leaving her stranded on the side of the road.

         They spent less time together after that, and the victim began dating a fellow student; however, she continued to see the defendant. One night in early December the victim was visiting with the defendant at his home where he lived with his mother and brother. After the two argued loudly, the defendant punched the victim in the stomach and took her cellular telephone to review its contents. He later smashed it and threw it into the woods near his house. The defendant's mother telephoned the police, and he subsequently was arrested.

         On January, 19, 2010, the defendant had an argument via telephone with the victim because she was spending time with her fellow student. The victim thereafter applied for and received a temporary restraining order against the defendant.

         Despite the restraining order, three days later, the defendant borrowed his mother's automobile to pick the victim up and drive her to his house to spend the night. The next evening, the defendant's mother found the two of them covered in blood lying face down, side by side on the floor of the defendant's basement bedroom. First responders determined that the victim was deceased: her body was severely bruised and swollen, and she had several stab wounds, including to her throat. The injuries to her face, including bruises and a pellet gunshot wound between the eyes, rendered her unrecognizable. By contrast, the defendant regained consciousness and his wounds were less severe. He had a large cut on his left wrist and a pellet gunshot wound to the temple, consistent with self-inflicted wounds; he also had superficial cuts on his hand, consistent with forceful stabbing motions, and an area at the back ...


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