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Commonwealth v. Hardy

Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Hampden

June 12, 2019

COMMONWEALTH
v.
SUZANNE HARDY.

          Heard February 5, 2019.

         The cases were tried before Richard J. Carey, J.

         The Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the case from the Appeals Court.

          Marissa Elkins for the defendant.

          Shane T. O'Sullivan, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

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

          CYPHER, J.

         In June 2014, the defendant, Suzanne Hardy, was involved in a multivehicle accident in Brimfield in which her two nephews -- four year old Dylan Riel and sixteen month old Jayce Garcia -- were fatally injured.[1] The defendant and her four year old son were seriously injured, but survived. At the time of the accident, Dylan was seated in the rear middle seat of the defendant's four-door sedan with the seat belt fastened, but without an age and size appropriate child safety "booster" seat, and Jayce was seated in the rear passenger's side position, in a front-facing safety seat with the straps set too high, rather than an age and size appropriate rear-facing safety seat.

         The defendant was indicted on two counts of manslaughter, G. L. c. 265, § 13; two counts of negligent motor vehicle homicide, G. L. c. 90, § 24G (b); one count of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon, G. L. c. 265, § 15A (b); and three counts of reckless endangerment of a child, G. L. c. 265, § 13L. The defendant was convicted of manslaughter of Dylan, reckless endangerment of Dylan, and negligent motor vehicle homicide of Dylan and Jayce.

         On appeal, the defendant raises two arguments. First, she contends that there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment of a child relating to Dylan. Second, she argues that, during closing argument, the Commonwealth improperly argued inferences not supported by the evidence and appealed to the passions and sympathies of the jury. We conclude that there was insufficient evidence to show that the defendant's actions amounted to wanton or reckless conduct, and as such, we vacate the convictions of involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment of Dylan. The defendant's two convictions of negligent homicide are affirmed.[2]

         1. Background.

         The defendant challenges the sufficiency of the evidence; therefore, we summarize the facts in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, see Commonwealth v. Latimore, 378 Mass. 671, 676-677 (1979), reserving pertinent facts for the discussion of the arguments. On the morning of June 20, 2014, Nicole Riel, mother of Dylan and Jayce, met the defendant in a parking lot to leave her children with the defendant.[3] Riel had to work, so the defendant planned to take the children to Dylan's baseball practice later that afternoon, and Riel planned to meet them there when she got out of work. The defendant had two children of her own -- a four year old son and a two year old daughter. The defendant's children's safety seats were installed in her vehicle, a four-door sedan, but her children were not with her when she picked up Dylan and Jayce. Riel secured Dylan, the four year old, into a booster seat and placed Jayce, the sixteen month old, in a front-facing safety seat in the defendant's vehicle.[4]

         The defendant drove the children to her home, where she lived with her parents, so that they could play. Meanwhile, the defendant and her parents decided to leave for vacation with Dylan that day. The defendant had planned to take her two children and Dylan to meet her parents at their destination the following day, but decided to leave that day instead, as Dylan's baseball practice was canceled.

         After her plans changed, the defendant decided to drive to Riel's house to return Jayce to his mother and pick up an overnight bag for Dylan to take on vacation. As the defendant placed her two nephews and her son in her vehicle, her father observed that there were only two safety seats in her vehicle's back seat. He took a booster seat out of his wife's vehicle and placed it against the rear driver's side door of the defendant's vehicle. The defendant picked up the booster seat, ...


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