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Commonwealth v. Copeland

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

January 18, 2019


          Heard: November 9, 2018.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on September 29, 2008.

         The cases were tried before Frank M. Gaziano, J.

          Stephen Paul Maidman for the defendant.

          Julianne Campbell, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

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

          LOWY, J.

         On July 29, 2008, John Marshall (victim) was stabbed to death in a parking lot in the Roxbury section of Boston. A grand jury returned indictments charging the defendant, David Copeland, with murder in the first degree and armed robbery. At trial, the defendant conceded that he stabbed the victim, but argued that he suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time of the killing, that the killing was a spontaneous event, and that he did not rob the victim. A Superior Court jury convicted the defendant of felony-murder in the first degree and armed robbery. On appeal from his convictions, the defendant challenges (1) the Commonwealth's opening statement; (2) the sufficiency of the evidence on the offenses of felony-murder and deliberately premeditated murder; (3) the judge's refusal to instruct the jury on felony-murder in the second degree; (4) the Commonwealth's closing argument; and (5) defense counsel's ineffective performance. He also requests that we exercise our power under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, to order a new trial or reduce the verdict to voluntary manslaughter. Because we find neither reversible error nor a reason to exercise our authority under § 33E, we affirm the judgments.


         We recite the evidence presented during the Commonwealth's case-in-chief, in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. Commonwealth v. Veiovis, 477 Mass. 472, 474 (2017). See Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 676-677 (1979). On July 28 and 29, 2008, the defendant and two women were smoking "crack" cocaine at an apartment on Regent Street. They ran out of cocaine multiple times, and on each occasion someone left the apartment and got more. But eventually, on the second day, both the cocaine and the money ran out. The defendant then asked one of the women if he could use her cellular telephone, saying that he was going to meet somebody. The defendant left the apartment wearing a white T-shirt.

         That same day, a witness telephoned the police after she saw two men fighting in the parking lot next to her apartment building on Dale Street. She saw a man in a white shirt apparently punching the victim, who was wearing a black shirt. The victim was "[j]ust standing there" leaning against his vehicle. The man in the white shirt eventually walked out of the parking lot toward Regent Street, leaving the victim lying on the ground. The witness then saw blood on the ground of the parking lot.

         At that time, a police officer who was in the area saw the defendant walking away from Dale Street on Regent Street. The defendant was sweating, bleeding, and shirtless; he was holding a white T-shirt in his hands. The officer asked the defendant if he needed help, and the defendant "shrugged [the officer] off and kept walking." After receiving a radio call about a stabbing in a Dale Street parking lot, the officer put out a description of the defendant and said the defendant might be in a nearby building. Officers began to canvass the area.

         The defendant returned to the Regent Street apartment sweaty and with blood on him. He first told one of the women at the apartment that he had fallen, but then said that "he got someone" and that he "took care of business." The women told the defendant that police were gathering outside. After hearing this, the defendant handed one of the women cocaine, marijuana, and money, all of which had blood on them. He also told the other woman that she did not need to open the door. He went into the kitchen, saying that he was trying to get to the back door, but he was still inside when a police officer entered the apartment.

         After the defendant's arrest, police found blood containing the victim's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) on the defendant's ear. The defendant initially told a detective that he had not left the Regent Street apartment building on the day of the killing. But when the detective told the defendant that he had evidence to the contrary, the defendant acknowledged that he had left once to buy alcohol.

         Meanwhile, police and paramedics found the victim lying on his back between two parked vehicles in the Dale Street parking lot, covered in blood. He was wearing a dark shirt, either navy blue or black. The victim was a crack cocaine dealer, and he also used marijuana. According to his girlfriend, who had previously seen drugs in the victim's vehicle, he had been selling drugs on July 29.

         The victim died at the hospital from an eight inch stab wound to the heart. He had other wounds on his body, including wounds on his hands consistent with attempts to block a knife. There were components of marijuana in his blood.

         Inside the victim's vehicle, which was at the crime scene, police found crack cocaine and a hat with the defendant's DNA on it. When police searched the Regent Street apartment, they found a knife wrapped in a white T-shirt. The medical examiner testified that the knife could have caused the injury that killed the victim. Blood on the knife matched the victim's DNA. Police officers also examined video footage captured on July 29 by ...

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