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Commonwealth v. Velez

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Middlesex

May 11, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
IDELFONSO VELEZ.

          Heard: October 6, 2017.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on September 30, 2010.

         The cases were tried before Sandra L. Hamlin, J., and a motion for a new trial, filed on August 6, 2014, was heard by Kimberly S. Budd, J.

          Theodore F. Riordan (Deborah Bates Riordan also present) for the defendant.

          Jessica Langsam, Assistant District Attorney (Joseph T. Gentile, Assistant District Attorney, also present) for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Gants, C.J., Gaziano, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.

          CYPHER, J.

         A jury convicted the defendant, Idelfonso Velez, of two counts of murder in the first degree for the deaths of Angel Ortiz and Trisha Bennett. Each conviction was based on theories of premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty. Represented by new counsel on appeal, the defendant moved for a new trial, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for pursuing an impracticable third-party culprit defense, rather than lack of criminal responsibility or mental impairment defenses based on the defendant's record of mental health problems and substance use. The defendant appeals from his convictions and from the denial of his motion for a new trial. We vacate the denial of his motion for a new trial and remand the case to the Superior Court for an evidentiary hearing.

         1. Background.

         a. Facts.

         In April, 2010, Ortiz and Bennett, who were boy friend and girl friend, were living in a two-bedroom apartment with Bennett's two year old daughter. Ortiz and the defendant were friends, and the defendant had previously stayed overnight at the apartment.

         On the evening of April 30, 2010, the defendant was again staying overnight at the apartment. At 3:31 A.M. on May 1, 2010, the defendant telephoned 911 from Bennett's cellular telephone and reported a home invasion. The defendant told the dispatcher that masked men had entered the apartment he was in and had stabbed him and his friends.[1]

         At 3:40 A.M., police officers arrived at Ortiz and Bennett's apartment building. The entryway to the building was locked and could only be opened by someone with a key or by a resident responding to the doorbell by remotely unlocking, i.e., "buzzing" open, the door. Officers pressed many buzzers until a tenant responded and allowed the door to be opened. Upon locating Ortiz and Bennett's apartment, officers found the door ajar but saw no sign of damage to the door, lock, or handle. In the apartment, police found a knife and towels in the kitchen sink, both with blood on them. There was blood in the bathroom. A vase on the floor and a mirror and a photograph hanging on the wall in the hallway appeared undisturbed.

         Ortiz and Bennett's bodies were found in the main bedroom. Ortiz's body was at the foot of the bed with a comforter tightly wrapped around his head. He had blunt-force injuries to his head and an arm and sharp-force injuries to his neck and torso and an arm.[2] He died from an approximately four and one-half inch deep stab wound to his neck. Bennett's body was on the other side of the room, between the bed and a wall. She had twenty-four sharp-force injuries and died from two stab wounds to her neck, either of which alone would have been fatal. She also had blunt-force injuries to her body. The medical examiner testified that Ortiz and Bennett had each experienced pain before dying.

         In the main bedroom, police found three bloody footprints on the bed. Two were matched to the defendant's footprint, but one footprint was never identified. In the other bedroom, where Bennett's daughter usually stayed and where the defendant was to sleep that night, there was a computer displaying a pornographic Web site. The computer had been used to view pornography between 2:42 and 2:51 A.M.

         Officers found the defendant lying on the ground outside the building in a fetal position. He did not respond to officers' attempts to communicate, although he seemed conscious and alert. The defendant was wounded on his knee, abdomen, forearm, and fingers. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) arrived and tended to his injuries, eventually moving him to the back of a parked ambulance. While the defendant was being treated, he began to get upset and call out someone's name, possibly calling out for Ortiz.[3] The defendant became more physically agitated until a ...


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