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Commonwealth v. Gallett

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk

March 20, 2019

COMMONWEALTH
v.
ALEXANDER GALLETT (and five companion cases[1]).

          Heard: December 7, 2018.

         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on November 2, 2010.

         Pretrial motions to suppress evidence were heard by Charles J. Hely, J., and Janet L. Sanders, J., and cases were tried before Linda E. Giles, J.

          Jeffrey L. Baler for Alexander Gallett.

          Andrew S. Crouch for Michel St. Jean.

          Sarah Montgomery Lewis, Assistant District Attorney (Jennifer Hickman, Assistant District Attorney, also present) for the Commonwealth.

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

          CYPHER, J.

         On September 1, 2010, Richel Nova (victim) was robbed and stabbed to death after being lured to a vacant house in the Hyde Park section of Boston. A jury convicted the defendants, Alexander Gallett and Michel St. Jean, of murder in the first degree by reason of extreme atrocity or cruelty and felony-murder.[2] The defendants raise various arguments on appeal. Gallett contends that the motion judge erred in denying his motion to suppress statements that he made to police during his interrogation. St. Jean argues that there was insufficient evidence to support the murder conviction; he was prejudiced by the admission of statements from Gallett's redacted police interrogation; he was prejudiced by the admission of his own redacted statements; the judge erred in denying his requests for various jury instructions; and the judge improperly invoked juror sympathy. In addition, Gallett and St. Jean argue that the judge erred both in limiting the cross-examination of certain witnesses and in declining to give a humane practice jury instruction.

         For the reasons stated infra, we affirm the defendants' convictions. After a thorough review of the record, we also decline to exercise our authority under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, to grant a new trial or to reduce the verdicts of murder in the first degree.

         Background.

         We briefly recite the evidence that the jury could have found, reserving pertinent facts for the discussion of the defendants' arguments. In addition, we reserve the facts that the motion judge found for the discussion of Gallett's motion to suppress.

         During the afternoon of September 1, 2010, St. Jean, Gallett, and Gallett's girlfriend, Yamiley Mathurin, were together at Aline Valery's house in Hyde Park. Valery overheard the defendants and Mathurin concocting a plan to rob someone. Valery left her house, but the defendants and Mathurin stayed behind.

         Gallett and St. Jean both owned knives. Gallett's knife was larger than a pocket knife. When opened, the blade would "cover the whole hand." St. Jean's knife was smaller; the handle and blade both fit into the palm of a hand when opened. Gallett usually carried a knife whenever he left the house. St. Jean always carried a knife on his person.

         At approximately 8 P_.M., the defendants and Mathurin took a bus to a vacant house in Hyde Park. At about 11 £.M., Mathurin asked Marie Tunis, a resident of an adjacent home, to use her telephone. Mathurin telephoned a pizzeria and placed an order, which included pizzas, chicken wings, and soda, to be delivered. She asked the pizzeria employee if the delivery driver would have change for a one hundred or fifty dollar bill. Mathurin gave St. Jean's cellular telephone (cell phone) number as the call-back number and asked the pizzeria employee to send the delivery driver to the back door of the address to the vacant house. At 11:30 £.M., Gallett asked a passerby on the street to use her cell phone. The passerby testified at trial that Gallett used her cell phone in front of the vacant house. Gallett telephoned the same pizzeria.

         Soon thereafter, the victim arrived with the order. Mathurin met the victim in the driveway of the vacant house and escorted him up the rear staircase. Five minutes later, the defendants and Mathurin left the house. Mathurin was holding a pizza box. St. Jean drove Gallett and Mathurin away in the victim's vehicle.

         The group abandoned the victim's vehicle in the rear of a church parking lot. The pizzeria sign atop the vehicle had been removed and discarded behind the church. Near or in the victim's vehicle, officers recovered a white pizza box and empty bleach and rubbing alcohol bottles. The label on the outside of the pizza box listed the delivery address as that of the vacant house and had St. Jean's cell phone number listed as the callback number.

         After abandoning the victim's vehicle, the group returned to Valery's residence. Upon arriving, the group appeared anxious and smelled of bleach. St. Jean had a cut on his right hand and was using a bandana to stop the bleeding. Gallett had blood on his shirt and on the bottom of his sneakers.

         After the defendants and Mathurin had left the vacant house, Michael Tunis, who had witnessed the group drive away, investigated the house with his brother and a friend. Upon entering the home, Tunis discovered blood and chicken wings on the floor near the entryway. Further into the apartment, in a room off the kitchen, Tunis discovered the victim lying on his back. The victim had visible puncture wounds and was unresponsive. Tunis left the house and telephoned police.

         At approximately 12 A.M., police arrived at the vacant house. Inside the residence, police discovered the victim's body along with blood all over the floor; a pizza warmer bag; a bloody chicken wing box; chicken wings; a knife handle; a bloody and slightly bent knife blade; and blood on the door frame leading into the kitchen. The victim's pants pockets were pulled inside out.

         Within two days, a police investigation led to the arrest of the defendants and Mathurin.[3] At the defendants' trial, redacted inculpatory statements from both defendants were introduced in evidence by way of audio-video recordings. In addition, a plethora of forensic evidence was introduced that implicated the defendants, including fingerprints and deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) found at the vacant house, in the victim's car, on the victim, on the pizza boxes, on the defendants' clothing, and on money that Mathurin gave to police after she was arrested.

         At trial, Gallett did not deny his involvement in the killing. Instead, he argued that the evidence of his admissions to police coupled with his age -- eighteen at the time of the murder -- supported a conviction of murder in the second degree rather than murder in the first degree based on deliberate premeditation, extreme atrocity or cruelty, or felony-murder. St. Jean's position was that, although he went with Gallett and Mathurin to the vacant house and broke into it by punching his fist through glass on the back door, he did not participate in the victim's murder or robbery, nor did he share the intent to commit the crimes.

         Discussion.

         1. Gallett. a. Miranda warnings.

         Two days after the murder, Gallett was questioned about the crime. During the questioning, Gallett confessed to the killing. A redacted audio-video recording of his interrogation was admitted in evidence at trial. On appeal, Gallett argues that the motion judge erred in denying his motion to suppress. He claims that the Commonwealth failed to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that he voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and voluntarily and knowingly made the inculpatory statements. Gallett contends that he was incapable of voluntarily waiving his Miranda rights because of his age -- eighteen at the time of the murder -- coupled with his low intelligence quotient (IQ). He also contends that his statements were not made voluntarily because the interrogating officers induced his statements by misrepresenting evidence and making false assurances. Finally, he contends that the statements should have been suppressed because police delayed his arrest to prevent him from exercising his right to make a telephone call. The Commonwealth argues that Gallett was not in custody for Miranda purposes during his interrogation. Furthermore, the Commonwealth maintains that even if Gallett were subject to a custodial interrogation, he was advised of and voluntarily waived his Miranda rights and his statements were not induced but made knowingly and voluntarily.

         "In reviewing a decision on a motion to suppress, 'we accept the judge's subsidiary findings absent clear error "but conduct an independent review of [the] ultimate findings and conclusions of law."'" Commonwealth v. Jones-Pannell, 472 Mass. 429, 431 (2015), quoting Commonwealth v. Ramos, 470 Mass. 740, 742 (2015). The motion judge found the following. On the evening of September 3, 2010, after police had gathered evidence about the killing of the victim, three officers of the Boston police department were instructed to locate Gallett and Mathurin and ask them to accompany the officers voluntarily to the police station for questioning. Dressed in plain clothes, but with their badges visible, the officers approached Gallett and Mathurin. Detective Aaron Blocker spoke with Gallett, and the two other officers spoke with Mathurin. At the outset, Blocker informed Gallett that he was not under arrest and was free to leave. Blocker asked Gallett to accompany him to the police station to speak with homicide detectives. He told Gallett that Gallett did not have to go with him. Gallett agreed to go to the station, but was concerned about Mathurin, who was crying. Blocker told Gallett that officers would give her a ride.

         Gallett rode with two officers in an unmarked police vehicle to the station. He was not handcuffed at any time before or during the interrogation. He arrived at the station at 8 P.M. Gallett watched television alone for about one and one-half hours before the interrogation began.

         At 9:37 P.M., Detectives Brian Black and Jeremiah Benton began a video-recorded interview with Gallett. Prior to beginning the interview, Black read Gallett the Miranda warnings. Black read the warnings one at a time. Gallett listened to the warnings and then read them himself. After each warning, he initialed the warning and informed the officers that he understood the warnings.

         At first, Gallett denied having any involvement with the killing. As the interview progressed, Gallett asked Black what was happening with his girlfriend, Mathurin. Black informed Gallett that she was being charged with murder, armed robbery, and breaking into a house. Gallett responded, "Let's talk." Gallett proceeded to give a detailed account of his and St. Jean's involvement in the killing and stated that Mathurin just watched.[4] The interview lasted one and one-half hours, at the end of which Gallett was charged with murder.

         The motion judge concluded beyond a reasonable doubt that Gallett was not in custody for Miranda purposes during his interview with the officers at the police station, but that even if he had been, there was no threatening or coercive tactics used by the officers; Gallett made a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary waiver of his Miranda rights; and his statements to police were voluntary.

         b. Voluntariness.

         As a preliminary matter, we need not address whether Gallett was in custody at the time he made the inculpatory statements because he ultimately received his Miranda warnings before he made any inculpatory statements. "Because [Gallett] was advised of, and waived, his Miranda rights, the issue becomes whether the Commonwealth has proved, by a totality of the circumstances, that [Gallett] made a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent waiver of his rights, and that his statements were otherwise voluntary." Commonwealth v. LeBeau, 451 Mass. 244, 254-255 (2008). See Commonwealth v. Medeiros, 395 Mass. 336, 343 (1985) (although voluntariness of Miranda waiver and voluntariness of statement are distinct inquiries, totality of circumstances test under each analysis is same). In reviewing the totality of the circumstances, we consider factors such as "promises or other inducements, conduct of the defendant, the defendant's age, education, intelligence and emotional stability, experience with and in the criminal justice system, physical and mental condition, the initiator of the discussion of a deal or leniency (whether the defendant or the police), and the details of the interrogation, including the recitation of Miranda warnings." Commonwealth v. Mandile, 397 Mass. 410, 413 (1986). "A voluntary statement is one that is 'the product of a "rational intellect" and a "free will," and not induced by physical or psychological coercion.'" Commonwealth v. Monroe, 472 Mass. 461, 468 (2015), quoting Commonwealth v. Tremblay, 460 Mass. 199, 207 (2011). We conclude that the motion judge's findings and conclusions are supported by the evidence.

         i. Age and IQ.

         Gallett contends that his age and relatively low IQ suggest that he did not voluntarily waive the Miranda warnings and voluntarily make inculpatory statements. After reviewing the interrogation video recording and hearing testimony from the interrogating officers, the motion judge found that Black read the Miranda warnings in a calm and careful manner and repeatedly informed Gallett that he could stop answering questions at any time. Furthermore, the motion judge found that Gallett appeared calm, was responsive to the questions, and displayed well-organized thinking and rational decision-making on how to respond. The motion judge concluded that Gallett understood the warnings, wanted to appear cooperative, and initially related events that he believed would be helpful to him.

         Based on the evidence presented at the hearing on the motion to suppress and our independent review of the recorded interview, we conclude that the motion judge properly concluded, beyond a reasonable doubt, that Gallett made his statements voluntarily after a knowing and intelligent waiver of his Miranda rights. Gallett was informed of his Miranda rights and indicated verbally and in writing that he understood the warnings. Although his age -- eighteen at the time of the murder -- is a relevant factor to consider, it is not a determinative one. Cf. Monroe, 472 Mass. at 471 (defendant's emotional and physical condition, while not determinative, is substantial factor). Furthermore, Gallett was an average student in high school taking college preparatory classes. While his grades had declined in recent semesters, the motion judge attributed that to lack of attendance. There is no indication that the defendant had cognitive limitations that would affect his waiver and voluntary statements. Regardless, evidence of cognitive limitations "does not compel a determination as matter of law" that the defendant did not "knowingly and willingly waive his Miranda rights and make a voluntary confession." Commonwealth v. Daniels, 366 Mass. 601, 607 (1975).

         In addition, there is no indication that Gallett had trouble understanding or answering the detectives' questions during the interview. He was not handcuffed, and the detectives neither yelled at nor acted aggressively toward him.

         ii. Misrepresentation, minimization, and assurances.

         Gallett argues that the interrogating officers misrepresented evidence that strengthened their case and made false assurances that ultimately induced Gallett into making inculpatory ...


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