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Commonwealth v. Cooley

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Hampden

July 13, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
EDWARD COOLEY.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on June 29, 2010.

         The cases were tried before Mary-Lou Rup, J., and a motion for a new trial, filed on October 24, 2011, was heard by her.

          Stephen Paul Maidman for the defendant.

          David L. Sheppard-Brick, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Lowy, & Budd, JJ.

          BUDD, J.

         In the early morning hours of March 20, 2010, Nicholas Hiller was shot and killed in Springfield while sitting in his motor vehicle. The defendant, Edward Cooley, was indicted and ultimately convicted by a jury of murder in the first degree on a theory of felony-murder, [1] as well as unlawful possession of a firearm and wilful interference with a criminal investigation. In this consolidated appeal, the defendant claims that the judge erred in denying his motion for a required finding of not guilty of murder in the first degree and unlawful possession of a firearm. The defendant further argues that the judge improperly denied his motion for a new trial, which was based on the Commonwealth's failure to disclose allegedly exculpatory evidence that had been specifically requested. We affirm the defendant's convictions and the judge's order denying his motion for a new trial. After a review of the entire record, we also decline to reduce or set aside the defendant's murder conviction under G. L. c. 278, § 33E.

         1. Background.

         We summarize the facts in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, reserving certain details for discussion of specific issues. At approximately 12:20 A.M. on March 20, 2010, in a Springfield neighborhood, a witness heard two shots fired. She looked out her window and saw two men speaking in a "panicking way"; the men then ran in opposite directions. Other witnesses also heard the gunshots, soon followed by the sound of a motor vehicle crashing. The victim's motor vehicle had crashed through a fence, struck another vehicle, and come to a stop in the yard of one of the witnesses. The victim was slumped over in the driver's seat and bleeding heavily.

         As the witnesses approached the vehicle, the defendant, wearing a leather jacket, ran up yelling, "It's my god-brother, " and "Don't call the cops[;] the guy[']s got weed on him." He climbed into the vehicle, pulled the victim slightly toward him while patting him down, and took the victim's cellular telephone. He also took a bag from behind the victim's seat, where police later found two bags containing marijuana. After getting out of the motor vehicle, the defendant told the witnesses to telephone the police and left the scene. First responders found that the victim sustained injuries consistent with a bullet traveling through his right arm and into his chest. He was pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital.

         Police were directed to the defendant, who had since returned to the area (without his leather jacket) . The defendant was interviewed at the scene and twice more at the police station. As investigators uncovered further evidence, the defendant changed portions of his statement. For example, after first denying it, he eventually admitted that the leather jacket, found hidden a short distance away from where the victim and his vehicle had crashed, was his. The jacket tested positive for gunshot primer residue on the cuffs, indicating that the jacket may have been within three feet of a gun when it was fired. The jacket also was stained with blood that matched the major deoxyribonucleic acid profile of the victim. The defendant admitted to taking the victim's cellular telephone from the motor vehicle after the crash only after police recovered it from a motor vehicle belonging to the defendant's girl friend.

         Other portions of the defendant's statements to police were proved false at trial. For example, the defendant had stated that he happened to meet the victim at a pharmacy store hours before the shooting, but surveillance video recordings from inside and outside the store showed the victim there alone. The defendant's claim that he had been on the telephone with the victim at the time of the shooting was belied by telephone records that showed that there were no telephone calls between the defendant and the victim at any point prior to the shooting.

         The telephone records also showed that, although there were no calls between the defendant and the victim, both were in touch with a third party, who had a telephone number ending in 7471, in the hours before the killing. There were numerous calls between the victim's number and the 7471 number, culminating with a call made minutes before the shooting. In addition, the records indicated that there were calls during the night prior to the shooting between the defendant's number and the 7471 number until 9:42 £.M. Another call was made from the defendant's number to the 7471 number soon after the defendant finished giving his second statement at the police station.

         2. Sufficiency ...


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