United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
JOHN TASSINARI, Petitioner.
SEAN MEDEIROS, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge
before the Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus
filed by John Tassinari (“Tassinari” or
“petitioner”) challenging his November, 2010
conviction for first degree murder in the Massachusetts
Superior Court for Plymouth County.
State Court Proceedings
June, 2008, Tassinari was charged in a one-count indictment
with the first degree murder of his wife earlier that year.
Petitioner admitted to shooting and killing his wife and, at
trial, the main issue was whether the shooting was a result
of petitioner's sudden heat of passion. After a jury
trial in October and November, 2010, defendant was convicted
of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison
without the possibility of parole.
trial, the government presented evidence about the
relationship between petitioner and the victim. They were
married in November, 2004 after a two-year relationship. In
the months leading up to the victim's death, Tassinari
and the victim experienced tension in their marriage which
was documented in electronic communications between the
couple. The government presented testimony of the
victim's sister-in-law that the victim had, at one point,
asked Tassinari for an “open marriage” and later
for a divorce, just three months prior to her death.
e-mails, Tassinari told the victim that he was concerned
about her plans to go on vacation with a friend because other
men would be present and he wasn't sure he could trust
her under those circumstances. Tassinari expressed resentment
about the time that his wife spent on the computer instead of
with him and acknowledged that he was a controlling type and
needed to work on trusting her more. On several occasions,
the wife denied that she was having an affair and accused
Tassinari of being insecure.
government presented evidence of two incidents that occurred
during the month of the murder. On April 10, 2008, Tassinari
had planned to spend the evening with the victim but left the
house after becoming angry with her. The victim called her
friend, expressing concern that Tassinari would hit her. Two
days before the murder, the victim went out with a group of
friends and received 12 text messages from Tassinari accusing
her of not being able to “handle herself” and
voicing concern that other men would take advantage of her
while she was on vacation.
night of the shooting, the couple planned to spend the
evening together. Tassinari was frustrated that his wife was
working on her computer. The victim went next door, to the
house of her brother and sister-in-law, to defuse the
situation. Tassinari called the victim and accused her of
wearing tight-fitting clothing. He then called his mother and
complained to her that the victim was talking about other
men. While Tassinari was on the phone with his mother, the
victim returned home.
thereafter, a waitress at a nearby restaurant heard gunshots
and saw Tassinari leave through the back door of his house.
The waitress saw Tassinari fire a gun and she heard a woman
scream. Tassinari immediately called the police and told them
that his wife had been cheating on him and that he had shot
her more than 12 times with two guns, killing her. He said he
would wait at his house for the police to arrive. The police
arrived and found the victim at the end of the driveway. It
was later determined that she had been shot 18 times.
support his heat-of-passion defense, petitioner introduced
evidence that the victim was involved with other men in the
form of internet chat history and telephone records
documenting conversations with two other men unknown to
Tassinari. He also proffered communications evincing the
couple's love and care for each other, even after heated
testified about the night of the murder and stated that he
was putting a gun away in his gun safe when the victim
returned home from her sister-in-law's house. At that
point, he and the victim argued about her conversations with
other men and Tassinari testified that she admitted to an
affair. He stated that he lost control and could only
remember reaching into the gun safe and seeing the
victim's face. Tassinari suggested that the sudden
revelation of infidelity caused him to lose control.
defense presented the testimony of witnesses who stated that
on the day of the murder, Tassinari had not exhibited any
unusual behavior. A forensic psychologist testified that
Tassinari was not suffering from any mental illness but that
he was obsessional, self-centered and manipulative. The
defense also presented a theory that tension in the marriage
stemmed from financial difficulties.
appealed his conviction in November, 2010 and in September,
2013, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
(“SJC”) affirmed the conviction. The SJC denied a
petition for rehearing but amended its opinion with respect
to Tassinari's challenge of a non-citizen
Federal Court Proceedings
filed the instant petition for habeas corpus in November,
2014. He makes the following arguments: (1) the jury
instructions on provocation were contradictory and confusing
on the issue of whether words could constitute adequate
provocation and the instruction on whether the sudden
revelation of infidelity could constitute provocation
improperly shifted the burden of proof to the petitioner; (2)
if the jury instructions on provocation were not in error,
defense counsel was constitutionally ineffective because he
informed the jury that he was not arguing facts essential to
the provocation defense and (3) the structure and sequence of
the jury ...