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Tassinari v. Medeiros

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

April 2, 2018

SEAN MEDEIROS, Respondent.


          Nathaniel M. Gorton United States District Judge

         Presently 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.

         I. Background

         A. State Court Proceedings

         In 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.

         At 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.

         In 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.

         The 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.

         On the 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.

         Shortly 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.

         To 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 arguments.

         Tassinari 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.

         The 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.

         Petitioner 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 juror.[1]

         B. Federal Court Proceedings

         Tassinari 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 ...

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