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Commonwealth v. Connors

Appeals Court of Massachusetts, Worcester

March 11, 2019

COMMONWEALTH
v.
CHAD CONNORS (and a companion case[1] ).

          Heard December 13, 2018.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on November 21, 2014.

         The cases were tried before Brian A. Davis, J.

          Dana Alan Curhan for Chad Connors.

          Jennifer H. O'Brien for Allen Erazo.

          Donna-Marie Haran, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Present: Kinder, Neyman, & Desmond, JJ.

          KINDER, J.

         On August 12, 2014, inmate Michael Freeman beat inmate William Sires to death in a cell at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center (SBCC). The defendants, Chad Connors and Allen Erazo, who are also inmates at SBCC, were charged with murder in the first degree as joint venturers based on evidence that Erazo physically forced the victim into the cell where Freeman was waiting while Connors closed the curtain on the cell door and stood by during the beating.

         On April 8, 2016, Freeman pleaded guilty to murder in the first degree. On May 6, 2016, following a jury trial in the Superior Court, the defendants were both convicted of murder in the second degree based on a theory of felony-murder, with a predicate felony of kidnapping, G. L. c. 265, § 26. Erazo's conviction of murder in the second degree was also based on a theory of intent-based murder.[2]

         On appeal, the defendants challenge the sufficiency of the evidence. Erazo also claims error in several evidentiary rulings and raises one argument pursuant to Commonwealth v. Moffett, 383 Mass. 201 (1981). Specifically, he argues that his felony-murder conviction is not consonant with justice in light of Commonwealth v. Brown, 477 Mass. 805, 807 (2017), which narrowed the scope of felony-murder liability and prospectively "eliminated felony-murder in the second degree." Commonwealth v. Fredette, 480 Mass. 75, 80 n.9 (2018). Discerning no error, we affirm.[3]

         Background.

         We summarize the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. See Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 677-678 (1979). In 2014, Freeman, the defendants, and the victim resided in the N1 housing unit at SBCC. The unit is monitored by recorded video surveillance, and a video recording that was introduced at trial showed the following sequence of events on August 12, 2014. The victim, who was in his seventies and walked with a cane, fought with Freeman as the victim walked around the common area of the unit during recreational time. After other inmates stopped the physical altercation, Freeman, Connors, and another inmate, Shaun McDonald, huddled together as the victim continued walking around the common area. When Freeman confronted the victim a second time shortly thereafter, they exchanged words and the victim walked away. Freeman and McDonald then talked in front of McDonald's cell (number twenty-three) while Connors sat on the table closest to the officers' station. Freeman briefly entered cell twenty-three, exited, and spoke to McDonald and Erazo. Connors, Freeman, and McDonald then engaged in conversation as the victim walked toward cell twenty-three. As the victim approached cell twenty-three, Freeman and McDonald entered the cell and Connors stood by the door. Erazo approached the victim suddenly from behind, wrapped his arms around the victim, and violently pulled him inside cell twenty-three. Connors stepped toward the cell, Erazo exited, and Connors pulled a curtain across the door.[4] Connors immediately walked away from the cell and toward the officers' station, McDonald exited the cell, and the door to cell twenty-three then closed.[5] Connors circled back to the common area and sat at a table across from cell twenty-three with a direct view of the cell and the officers' station. Connors then left the table and stood next to the cell directly across from cell twenty-three. One and one-half minutes later, the door to cell twenty-three reopened. Neither the victim nor Freeman reemerged.

         Approximately thirty minutes after Erazo forced the victim into cell twenty-three, correction officer (CO) Nicholas Poladian was making his rounds when he noticed blood on the wall in that cell. Poladian looked inside and saw an inmate on the floor covered in blood. The inmate, later identified as the victim, was unrecognizable as a result of the beating. Freeman, who was standing in the rear of the cell, said, "I did this. What do you want me to do now?" When asked where the weapon was, Freeman responded, "I did it. Everything is in there. I'm the only one." Freeman also said, "I beat him to death. I killed him." The victim's cane lay across his chest.

         Discussion.

         1. Sufficiency ...


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