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Commonwealth v. Goitia

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Hampden

October 18, 2018

COMMONWEALTH
v.
EDWIN GOITIA

          Heard: April 6, 2018.

          Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on June 22, 2010. The cases were tried before Constance M. Sweeney, J., and a motion for a new trial, filed on April 7, 2015, was heard by her.

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

          Bethany C. Lynch, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

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

          LOWY, J.

         Just after 10 P.M. on July 29, 2009, six month old Naiden Goitia (child) was pronounced dead at a hospital in Holyoke. The defendant, Edwin Goitia, was indicted for his murder. A jury in the Superior Court convicted the defendant of murder in the first degree on the theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty.[1] The defendant appeals from his conviction and from the denial of his motion for a new trial.

         The defendant's arguments in his direct appeal are nearly identical to those he asserted in his motion for a new trial. He argues that defense counsel rendered ineffective assistance at trial by failing to impeach the credibility of the child's mother adequately, including that she also had been indicted for the child's murder, and that she was testifying pursuant to a cooperation agreement with the Commonwealth.[2] The defendant also claims that his right to due process was violated by the Commonwealth's failure to disclose that it allegedly agreed to dismiss criminal charges against the mother's father and step mother in exchange for the mother's cooperation; that the Commonwealth failed to produce certain photographs and a video recording; that evidence of injuries the child sustained in February, 2009, was admitted improperly and that a limiting instruction should have been given; and that the prosecutor improperly vouched for the credibility of the child's mother in her closing argument. We discern no reversible error, and decline to exercise our authority under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, to reduce the degree of guilt or order a new trial. Accordingly, we affirm the defendant's conviction of murder in the first degree and affirm the denial of the motion for a new trial.

         Background.

         We summarize the facts as the jury could have found them, reserving certain details for later discussion. See Commonwealth v. Mendez, 476 Mass. 512, 513 (2017).

         The mother and the defendant were involved in a relationship, and she became pregnant. Although she briefly stayed with the defendant, in approximately November, 2008, the mother moved into a third-floor apartment with another woman (roommate). The defendant came by the apartment "sometimes." After the child was born in January, 2009, the defendant was an infrequent visitor to the apartment.

         In February, the child was hospitalized with bruises and other injuries on his body. The child was taken from the mother's custody by the Department of Children and Families (department) and ultimately placed in the custody of the maternal grandfather. After the mother completed parenting classes, she was allowed daily unsupervised visits with the child. In June, 2009, she took the child to live with her without informing the department.

         During the one to two months before the child's death, the roommate, and a neighbor who lived in the building, saw the child almost every day. The neighbor became "fast friends" with the mother, and she babysat for the child several times. The child was a good, loving, happy, smiling, "bubbly" baby boy, who laughed a lot. When the defendant visited, however, the child screamed, cried, was "shaking and red, like he had been crying," and his lips would quiver.

         On the day he died, several witnesses testified that the six month old behaved like "his normal self, happy and playful." After being given his dinner at the neighbor's apartment, he, his mother, and the neighbor and her children went to a nearby store for ice cream, where he interacted with the store employee, who testified that the child was normal in every respect, and smiled.

         As the group returned to the apartment building between 6 and 6:45 P..M., they met the defendant, who told the mother that he wanted to walk with her to a local liquor store to get something for them to drink that night. He wanted to leave on the walk soon, but wanted to put the child to bed first. He declined to take the child along on the walk. Even though it was "really hot" outside, the defendant refused multiple offers of a ride, saying, "I want to walk with [the mother]." Although the neighbor offered to babysit the child in her apartment, the defendant refused, saying, "We will do the [baby] monitor like last time."

         The defendant carried the child upstairs to the mother's apartment, while the mother remained downstairs; the roommate was not at home. After about five minutes, the mother went upstairs to retrieve something, returning within two minutes. Meanwhile, the roommate returned home, and she also went upstairs while the defendant was there, staying just long enough to get some clothes. She saw the defendant standing in the living room, holding the child so that his head was on the defendant's shoulder, with a blanket covering all but his legs, which were "hanging out," or "dangling." She moved to touch the child, but the defendant turned away without her being able to see the child's face. The defendant then walked into the mother's room and closed the door.

         Within one minute of returning downstairs, the roommate went back to the apartment to retrieve her forgotten keys. The mother's bedroom door was still closed. Shortly after the roommate left, the defendant came downstairs. He reported that the child had not cried, was sleeping, and that he was "knocked out." When asked for the keys to the mother's apartment so that the door could be locked, the defendant went upstairs by himself, and returned "very quickly." He asked to use the neighbor's bathroom, and then he and the mother left for the liquor store. He never gave the neighbor the keys to the mother's apartment so that she could check on the child.

         At approximately 7:30 P..M., the mother and the defendant arrived at the liquor store. While the mother chatted with the store employee, the defendant remained standing, three or four feet behind her, by the door, standoffish and aloof, pacing and glaring, as if he were ready to leave.

         While the defendant and the mother were away, the neighbor sat in the hallway of her apartment, where she could hear if the child made any sound; she heard nothing. Eventually, the mother appeared at the neighbor's apartment, reporting that she and the defendant had returned. A short while later, between 8 and 8:30 P..M., the neighbor went up to the mother's apartment to return the child's diaper bag and some toys. When she went inside, the mother and the defendant were sitting on separate couches in the living room. The defendant seemed jumpy or antsy, like he could ...


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