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Commonwealth v. Field

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Plymouth

August 1, 2017

COMMONWEALTH
v.
EUNICE M. FIELD.

          Heard: March 10, 2017.

         Indictment found and returned in the Superior Court Department on October 21, 2010.

         The case was tried before Charles J. Hely, J., and a motion for a new trial, filed on June 16, 2014, was heard by him.

          Elizabeth Caddick for the defendant.

          Stacey L. Gauthier, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

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

          LOWY, J.

         In August, 2010, the victim, Lorraine Wachsman, was stabbed to death. A jury in the Superior Court found the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty. The defendant appeals from her conviction and from the denial of her motion for a new trial.

         The defendant asserts several claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, centering on trial counsel's failure to consult with a mental health expert regarding (1) a defense of mental impairment, including impeaching the Commonwealth's mental health expert; (2) the suppression of statements made by the defendant during two police interviews; and (3) the defendant's competency to stand trial. Although we conclude that trial counsel erred by failing to consult with a mental health expert, the error does not require reversal of the defendant's conviction. See Commonwealth v. Nolin, 448 Mass. 207, 220 (2007); Commonwealth v. Wright, 411 Mass. 678, 682 (1992), S.C., 469 Mass. 447 (2104). We also decline to grant relief under G. L. c. 278, § 33E.

         Background.

         We recite the facts the jury could have found in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, reserving certain details for our analysis of the issues.

         The defendant, who was prescribed medication for bipolar disorder, and who had a history of substance abuse, came to know the victim through Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). The defendant and the victim had a strained relationship for some time leading up to the victim's death. The victim was close with the defendant's former longtime girl friend and acted as the girl friend's AA "sponsor." The defendant blamed the victim for the defendant's romantic relationship with the girl friend ending in early 2010. Even before the events leading to the end of her romantic relationship with the girl friend, the defendant harbored resentment toward the victim. According to the defendant, the victim prevented her from visiting a sick mutual friend in the hospital, prior to that friend's death.

         On the night before the victim's death, the defendant telephoned the victim and arranged to meet her the following morning. That night, the defendant wrote on her page on the Web site Facebook, "Tic toe, tic toe. I'm going to finish my book tomorrow. You're all going to be real interested in it because you're all in it. The title is Tormented Minds by Eunice Field." At around the same time, the defendant wrote a note, addressed to the former girl friend, which stated that the victim would "get what she deserves for coming between you and me, "[1] and that she had "snapped" because of her bipolar disorder.

         The defendant traveled to the victim's apartment in Bridgewater on the morning of August 9, 2010, and killed the victim by stabbing her nine times with a knife in the neck, chest and back. After killing the victim, the defendant drove herself to the Brockton police station. When she arrived, she remained in her motor vehicle. Officers found the defendant, complaining of chest pain. As they helped the defendant out of her automobile, they saw that she was covered in blood. After being asked about the blood, the defendant stated that she had just killed someone.

         The defendant was brought into the police station and seated on a bench in the lobby, where she repeated that she had killed someone, and when asked, gave the victim's name. She also provided the officers with the name of the apartment complex in which the victim lived. The defendant was taken to an interview room. She was read the Miranda rights, and she responded that she understood them and that she ...


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