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Commonwealth v. Garcia

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Hampden

June 7, 2019


         Indictments found and returned in the Superior Court Department on August 13, 2010. The cases were tried before Mary-Lou Rup, J., and a motion for a new trial was heard by her.

          Alan Jay Black for the defendant.

          Katherine E. McMahon, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

          Ryan M. Schiff & David Rossman, for Omar Abdur-Rahim & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

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

          LOWY, J.

         A jury convicted the defendant of murder in the first degree on theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty.[1] The judge sentenced the defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on the murder conviction.[2] On appeal, the defendant argues that (1) the judge erred in declining to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter; (2) the defendant's age at the time of his crimes -- nineteen years old -- renders his sentence unconstitutional; and (3) the judge should have granted a new trial due to a partial court room closure. The defendant also requests that we exercise our power under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, to either reduce his convictions or grant a new trial. Because we find neither reversible error nor a reason to exercise our authority under § 33E, we affirm.[3]


         We recite certain facts the jury could have found, reserving other details for later discussion. In July 2010, the fifteen year old daughter of the murder victim (victim or mother) was dating the defendant, who was nineteen. The daughter lived in Hampden with her sister, her stepfather, and her mother. The daughter awoke in her bedroom on July 21 to a gloved hand over her mouth. There was a knife against her throat and a masked face staring at her. The daughter knew from the assailant's voice and clothing that he was the defendant, and she later recognized him when he took off his mask. The defendant tried to pull the daughter's shorts off multiple times but never entirely removed them. He eventually put the knife down and explained to the daughter, "I was trying to see what you would do in that situation. ... I was trying to show you the world wasn't safe."

         The daughter then told her mother the defendant was in her room. They went into the room and found the defendant hiding in a closet. After the victim told the defendant to "[g]et out," the defendant left.

         Following the July 21 incident, the victim became scared that the defendant would return to the house. She started locking the doors at night. The victim also told her daughter that the victim would not let anything bad happen to her, and that if the defendant came back he would have to get through the victim.

         At night on July 29, the daughter sent a text message to the defendant stating that their relationship was over. In the morning on July 30, the family dog started barking in the victim's house. The stepfather investigated and noticed the cellar door was open. He closed it, and then went into the kitchen to find the victim running toward him. The victim said the defendant was in the daughter's room. According to the stepfather's testimony, "Before she finished saying it, [the defendant] came storming out towards us" with a knife. The defendant sliced the stepfather's throat and cut him above the eye. The stepfather went to the door leading outside but could not open it, so he turned around and saw the defendant "standing over" the victim with the knife. Although the victim was hidden behind a counter, the stepfather heard the victim making sounds similar to "somebody getting punched." As the stepfather escaped outside through the door, the defendant stabbed him in the back multiple times.

         The victim's daughter left her bedroom when she heard her stepfather's screams. She saw the defendant stabbing her mother. When the daughter tried to escape, the defendant dragged her into the kitchen by her hair. The daughter saw the defendant slice her mother's throat, and then she escaped outside.

         At trial, defense counsel admitted in the opening statement that the defendant killed the victim, and then stated that the evidence would show the defendant was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder. After the judge declined to instruct the jury on manslaughter, defense counsel argued in closing that the defendant was not guilty of murder because he did not act with malice, but rather in response to the victim confronting him with a ...

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