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Commonwealth v. Holland

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Norfolk

April 19, 2017


          Heard: November 10, 2016.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on November 18, 1998.

         The cases were tried before Thomas E. Connolly, J., and motions for a new trial, filed on April 3, 2006, and December 18, 2008, were heard by him.

          Kevin S. Nixon for the defendant.

          Tracey A. Cusick, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Hines, Gaziano, & Lowy, JJ.

          HINES, J.

         On October 13, 1998, the victim was shot to death in her home. A jury convicted the defendant, the victim's estranged husband, of murder in the first degree on the theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty, and armed home invasion. The defendant appealed from his convictions and from the denial of his two motions for a new trial. In his brief on appeal, the defendant argues that the trial judge erred in denying his first motion for a new trial on the ground that his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective in failing to investigate and present a defense of lack of criminal responsibility. We affirm his convictions as well as the orders denying the motions for a new trial.


         1. The trial.

         Based on the evidence adduced at trial, the jury could have found the following facts. The defendant and the victim were married in 1989, and their son was born later that year. A few years later, the couple moved into their family home, located in Quincy. As time progressed, the marriage became turbulent and tension grew between the couple. In February, 1998, the victim sought and was granted a restraining order against the defendant, the terms of which required him to vacate the marital home. For a number of months, the defendant stayed with family or friends and later moved into an apartment in the Dorchester section of Boston. In September, 1998, the defendant and his then girl friend moved to Richmond, New Hampshire, to live with the defendant's uncle.

         On the afternoon of the day of the murder, the defendant began drinking one hundred proof peppermint schnapps and ingesting Elavil[1], a prescription medication that the defendant had found. Later that evening, the defendant purchased two twelve packs of beer, and drove to a nearby bridge where he drank the beers, smoked "crack" cocaine, and took more Elavil. Next, the defendant drove to a bar just over the Massachusetts border where he consumed more alcohol until the bartender refused to serve him. After leaving the bar, he ingested more Elavil and smoked crack cocaine and marijuana, before driving to Quincy.

         The defendant arrived the victim's home between approximately 11:30 P..M. and midnight. He retrieved his golf bag, containing golf clubs and a .22 caliber rifle, from the trunk of his vehicle. The defendant had purchased the rifle and .22 caliber ammunition a month or so before that night.[2] Once on the porch, the defendant dropped a can of beer and a straw, and used the golf bag to break the front porch window of the home. He entered and went up the stairs to the master bedroom where he shot the victim with the rifle and beat her with the stock of the rifle until it broke into pieces. At around 8:30 A.M. the next day, the victim's eight year old son discovered his mother's body in the bedroom.

         The victim suffered gunshot wounds to her chest and abdomen, multiple lacerations on her head caused by blunt force trauma, and abrasions on her back. The cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.

         Following the murder, the defendant drove back to his uncle's home. The defendant spoke with his uncle briefly and then got into bed with his girl friend. She noticed that his hands were swollen and had cuts on them. The defendant explained that he had been in a bar fight.

         When the defendant and his girl friend awoke on the morning of October 14, they packed an overnight bag for a trip to Massachusetts, where they planned to go to a bank to get money, possibly to leave town. The girl friend drove while the defendant slept in the passenger seat. The two arrived in Braintree at around 5 P..M., after the bank had closed.

         After speaking to a longtime friend of the defendant who did not want the pair to come to her house, the girl friend attempted to hide the vehicle, and ultimately discovered that the defendant's golf bag was missing from the trunk. When she asked the defendant if he had killed the victim, he said he was not sure, but that he remembered being on the porch of the victim's home. After this conversation, the defendant and the girl friend planned to go to Florida, where she had family. The defendant ended up driving to Lawrence, where his cousin lived. Shortly thereafter, the police arrived and arrested the defendant. During a search of the defendant's vehicle, the police found one live round of ammunition; a box of .22 caliber ammunition; live rounds of .22 caliber ammunition in the pouch of a sweatshirt; and full and empty beer cans that matched the brand of beer the defendant had dropped on the porch.

         At trial, the defendant testified and presented witnesses in support of his mental impairment (diminished capacity) defense.[3] The defendant and his uncle testified extensively on the defendant's drug and alcohol use, beginning when he was thirteen years of age. In his later teen years, the defendant was committed to the Department of Youth Services (DYS) because of his increasing drug and alcohol use. Even after his release from DYS custody, the defendant consistently used drugs and alcohol until he was twenty-four or twenty-five years old. His drug use abated for a period of time after meeting and marrying the victim.

         The defendant acknowledged that, in February, 1998, he had to vacate the marital home because, following an argument, the victim obtained a restraining order against him. After staying with his parents for a few weeks, the defendant left their home and moved in with friend who lived in New Hampshire. During this time, the defendant used alcohol and drugs, including cocaine, prescription pills, sleeping pills, mushrooms, and marijuana. In March, 1998, after the defendant met and began dating his girl friend, his drug use "got out of control." The defendant's longtime friend testified that because of the restraining order and issues concerning the custody of the defendant's son, the defendant was "upset, " "confused, " and "stressing out, " and began drinking more heavily, partying, and using crack cocaine and other drugs.

         A few months after meeting his girl friend, the defendant moved with her into an apartment in Dorchester. While living there, the defendant's job performance began to suffer, and he was referred to the Employee Assistance Program. According to the program counsellor, the defendant appeared depressed, upset, and emotional. Although the defendant admitted that he drank some alcohol during the week, the defendant did not mention his drug use.

         The program counsellor referred the defendant to a therapist, Dr. John D. Eckelman, who assisted the defendant in obtaining paid stress leave from work. While on leave, the defendant's drug use increased to the point where he was drinking alcohol and using drugs all day. Although the defendant was receiving his salary while on paid leave, he took out a $20, 000 loan against his retirement savings plan, using the money to pay legal bills and rent for the Dorchester apartment, and to purchase drugs.

         In August, 1998, the defendant lost visitation rights with his son and sunk deeper into drug and alcohol use. On August 31, 1998, the defendant went to a hospital emergency room, and checked himself in to a detoxification facility known as NORCAP, where he remained for approximately ten days. Shortly after leaving the detoxification facility, however, the defendant returned to his Dorchester apartment and resumed using drugs and alcohol. He missed two appointments with his employee assistance therapist. Although the defendant was supposed to return to work in August, 1998, he failed to do so.

         Throughout September, 1998, the defendant continued to use drugs and alcohol in increasing amounts and contemplated suicide. After exhausting his retirement loan funds, the defendant was unable to pay rent and was evicted from his apartment. The defendant and his girl friend moved in with the defendant's uncle in Richmond, New Hampshire. There, the defendant continued to use drugs: crack cocaine, Klonopin, Valium, painkillers, and alcohol. According to the defendant's uncle, the defendant was "pretty well burned out" and "loaded" in the days leading up to the murder.

         Dr. Robert H. Joss, the defendant's retained expert and a forensic psychologist, opined that the defendant's drug and alcohol use on the day of the murder impaired his "ability . . . to carry out planful action" at that time. Joss added that the level of drugs and alcohol ingested by the defendant that day would have impaired his executive functioning, and would be "consistent with [the defendant] suffering blackouts."

         In rebuttal, the Commonwealth called Dr. John D. Eckelman, the therapist to whom the defendant was referred by his employee assistance counsellor. Eckelman testified that during their sessions, the defendant discussed his marital issues and admitted to feeling "very stressed and pressured" in his relationship with the victim. Although the defendant admitted to Dr. Eckelman that he drank during the week, the defendant apparently did not mention drug use. The Commonwealth also called Dr. Malcolm P. Rogers, a forensic psychiatrist with expertise in the effects of drug and alcohol consumption on the central nervous system. After interviewing the defendant and reviewing relevant records, Dr. Rogers opined that the defendant "did not have any significant cognitive deficits" on October 13, 1998, and that the defendant had the capacity to form the specific intent kill the victim.

         2. First motion ...

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