Heard February 5, 2019.
cases were tried before Richard J. Carey, J.
Supreme Judicial Court on its own initiative transferred the
case from the Appeals Court.
Marissa Elkins for the defendant.
T. O'Sullivan, Assistant District Attorney, for the
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Budd, Cypher,
& Kafker, JJ.
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. 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.
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
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
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. 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.
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.
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, ...