United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
CORPUS (DOC. NO. 1)
Sorokin United States District Judge.
Piantedosi, a prisoner at the Old Colony Correctional Center
in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, has filed a pro se petition
for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2254. He challenges limitations the state trial court imposed
on the testimony of a defense expert witness. The respondent
has opposed the petition. As explained below,
Piantedosi's federal claim does not warrant habeas
was convicted of first-degree murder on September 23, 2013,
following a jury trial in Middlesex County Superior Court.
Commonwealth v. Piantedosi, 87 N.E.3d 549 (Mass.
2017); Doc. No. 1 at 1-2. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Doc. No. 1 at 1; App. at 8.
murder victim was Piantedosi's longtime girlfriend, with
whom he shared a teenage daughter. Piantedosi, 87
N.E.3d at 550-51. On May 3, 2012, days after his release from
a psychiatric hospitalization, Piantedosi visited the
victim's home to see their daughter. Id. at
551-52. What began as a verbal argument between Piantedosi
and the victim escalated, and ultimately ended with
Piantedosi grabbing a butcher knife and chasing the victim
from the kitchen to their daughter's bedroom, where he
stabbed her to death. Id. at 551. The killing was
witnessed by Piantedosi's daughter, as well as one of her
friends with whom she had been video chatting on a computer
in her room. Id. After his daughter fled and called
police from a food delivery person's car, Piantedosi left
the house. Id. The next day, Piantedosi drove to a
state police barracks in Weston, Massachusetts, parked his
car, laid down on the ground in front of his car, and
remained there until officers recognized and arrested him.
defense at trial, Piantedosi sought to establish that he
lacked criminal responsibility for the killing due to
involuntary intoxication from newly prescribed antidepressant
medications. Id. at 550. Piantedosi presented
testimony by his father and a forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Wade
C. Meyers, medical records from his past psychiatric
treatment and hospitalizations, and a competency evaluation
conducted after his arrest. Id. at 552. The Supreme
Judicial Court (“SJC”) described this portion of
the evidence, which is the focus of Piantedosi's federal
claim, as follows:
[Piantedosi]'s father . . . testified to
[Piantedosi]'s psychiatric hospitalizations a few days
before the May 3, 2012 incident. On April 29, 2012, the
father visited [Piantedosi] at the Holy Family Hospital
emergency room and observed that he was quiet and
nontalkative. According to medical records, [Piantedosi] had
been admitted to the hospital for self-inflicted injuries to
his arms. He was diagnosed with depression and prescribed
Prozac . . . and Trazodone . . . .
Upon [Piantedosi]'s discharge on May 2, 2012, his father
picked him up from the hospital and drove him to a pharmacy
to fill his prescriptions. [Piantedosi] was scheduled to attend an
outpatient program beginning on May 3, 2012. He spent the
afternoon [of May 2nd] in his room but left to attend classes
at a professional school that evening; several of the
students in his class noticed that he seemed tired and
unwell. The next morning, [Piantedosi] did not come
downstairs from his bedroom until approximately 11:30 A.M.;
he was pale and dehydrated. [Piantedosi] left the house
shortly thereafter, telling his father that he was planning
to pick [his daughter] up at school . . . and take her out
for ice cream.
Meyers evaluated [Piantedosi] to determine his mental state
at the time of the crime. Based on interviews with
[Piantedosi], Meyers's review of past psychiatric
records, neuropsychological testing, and other information,
Meyers concluded that on May 3, 2012, [Piantedosi] did not
have the capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his
conduct and was not able to conform his conduct to the
requirements of the law. Meyers opined that [Piantedosi]
suffered from involuntary intoxication from the
antidepressants Prozac and Trazodone. He explained that
possible side effects of those medications included
“irritability, rage reactions, hostility, mania,
insomnia, racing thoughts, a disinhibition of . . . behavior,
impulsivity and trouble concentrating.” Meyers opined
further that [Piantedosi] suffered from bipolar disorder, and
therefore that he was more vulnerable to the toxic effects of
Prozac and Trazodone. He noted that Prozac and Trazodone
contain warnings to screen for bipolar disorder because
“taking those medications has a significant risk of
swinging you into a manic episode.” He stated that
people with bipolar disorder who are treated with
antidepressants generally are also treated with mood
stabilizers to prevent possible manic episodes.
In rebuttal, the Commonwealth called Dr. Alison Fife, a
forensic psychiatrist. Fife also had interviewed [Piantedosi]
and reviewed the relevant treatment records and police
reports. She disagreed with the conclusion that [Piantedosi]
was intoxicated by therapeutic doses of Prozac and Trazodone.
She also did not agree with Meyers's diagnosis of bipolar
disorder. Fife testified that a mental disease or defect did
not “drive” [Piantedosi] to kill the victim. When
asked, in her opinion, what did “drive”
[Piantedosi] to do so, she responded that feelings of anger,
sadness, and rage “drove” [his] behavior.
Piantedosi, 87 N.E.3d at 552-53.
filed a timely appeal. App. at 9. In his brief to the SJC,
his counsel raised four issues, including whether precluding
the defense expert from testifying about Piantedosi's
statements to him violated the Constitution. App. at 20. In
his reply brief, Piantedosi identified three additional
issues pursuant to Commonwealth v. Moffett, 418
N.E.2d 585 (Mass. 1981). App. at 133, 137-38.
affirmed on December 18, 2017. In its decision, the SJC
discussed at length and rejected each of the issues raised in
Piantedosi's opening brief, and also summarily
acknowledged and found “unavailing” the
Moffett claims. Piantedosi, 87 N.E.3d at
553-60 & n.11. Piantedosi did not seek certiorari in the
United States Supreme Court.
November 2018, Piantedosi filed a timely federal habeas
petition, claiming he was “prevented . . . [from]
hav[ing] a complete and full defense” because
“[t]he trial court erroneously precluded crucial expert
testimony concerning [his] symptoms and past medical
history.” Doc. No. 1 at 6. Piantedosi's claim has
been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.