September 10, 2019.
found and returned in the Superior Court Department on March
7, 2000. The case was tried before Tina S. Page, J.; a motion
for a new trial, filed on November 12, 2003, was considered
by her; and a motion for a new trial, filed on June 23, 2016,
was heard by her.
H. Erickson for the defendant.
G.A. Coliflores, Assistant District Attorney, for the
Present: Gants, C.J., Lowy, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.
November 7, 2001, the defendant, James Norris, was convicted
of murder in the first degree on theories of premeditation
and extreme atrocity or cruelty in the stabbing death of the
victim, Aaron "Chad" Scott. The defendant's
direct appeal was consolidated with his appeals from the
denials of his two motions for a new trial. The defendant
raises various arguments on appeal. He asserts that his
motion for a required finding of not guilty should have been
granted; that he received ineffective assistance of counsel;
and that the trial judge erred in admitting improper and
misleading evidence, failing to sanction the Commonwealth
appropriately for destroying exculpatory evidence, and
failing to recuse herself. Finally, the defendant argues that
the cumulative errors made during the trial amount to a
violation of due process and his right to a fair trial.
careful consideration of the defendant's arguments on
appeal from his conviction and from the denials of his two
motions for a new trial, we affirm his conviction and the
denials of the motions, and we decline to grant extraordinary
relief pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 33E.
recite the facts the jury could have found, viewing the
evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth,
while reserving certain details for later discussion.
defendant lived with a relative on Wilbraham Road in
Springfield. The defendant sold drugs for the victim and his
brother, who sublet a home on Brickett Street in Springfield
from the defendant. The victim's body was found in the
early morning hours of January 18, 2000, in the Brickett
Street home (house) after four anonymous 911 calls directed
police to the residence.
previous evening, at approximately 10:30 P..M., the defendant
telephoned Dan Brunelle, a casual associate, to ask for a
ride to the house. Brunelle had driven the defendant to the
house many times before because Brunelle occasionally
purchased "crack" cocaine from the defendant or the
Brunelle arrived to pick up the defendant twenty minutes
later, the defendant got into Brunelle's van and said,
"I'm going to do Chad." After convincing
Brunelle that he was joking, the defendant asked Brunelle to
stop a few doors away from the house to pick up David
Johnson, whom the defendant had invited along to smoke
marijuana. During the drive, Brunelle complied with
the defendant's request to lend Johnson his gloves, but
once they arrived at the house Brunelle became nervous about
the defendant's earlier "joke." He got out of
the van, stood by the front bumper, and demanded his gloves
remained in the van while the defendant and Johnson
approached the house. Brunelle saw the pair enter the home,
and a silhouette of a third person in the kitchen. Brunelle
testified that a moment later, Johnson "burst out"
through the storm door, turned around, and put his full
weight against the door, "containing what was clearly a
struggle on the inside." In a panic, Brunelle drove away
to the home of Charles Varner, whom Brunelle considered a
testified that when he entered the home behind the defendant,
the defendant and victim had already begun to fight. During
that fight, the two men fell against the storm door, which
swung open and hit Johnson in the face. After pushing the
door shut, Johnson heard the victim say, "Are you going
to leave me for dead? Are you going to leave me for dead? I
got kids . . . I got little boys," but all Johnson could
see was the defendant's arm making "up and
down" movements. As Johnson backed away from the door,
it "flew open," and the defendant called out to
Johnson for help with the victim's body. Shocked and
believing the defendant had a knife on him, Johnson remained
at the scene, where he witnessed the defendant try to push
the victim's body down a flight of stairs before taking a
pot of water that was on the stove and splashing it
throughout the kitchen and the exterior of the home.
Johnson left the scene, the defendant followed. Johnson
testified that after going to a bar to get change, the
defendant used a pay telephone to call someone to help him
dispose of the body and clean up. As Johnson and the
defendant returned to the scene, Johnson saw a vehicle in the
the vehicle were Varner and his friend, Keith Freeman, who
had arrived at the house after Brunelle had told the men what
he had witnessed. Varner testified that when he and Freeman
initially arrived at the scene, Varner knocked on the door,
but no one answered. As he turned to get back into his
vehicle, he saw the defendant, who told him to leave. When
Varner informed the defendant that Brunelle had been to his
house and that he was there to see "what was going
on," the defendant told Varner that Brunelle was a liar,
that there had been "a little beef," and that the
police had already been there.
and Freeman began to drive away but then turned around after
deciding that things did not "seem
right." When they returned, Varner demanded to
know where the victim was. The defendant claimed that the
victim was not there. Despite the defendant's protests,
Varner and Freeman entered the home and saw the victim's
jacket in the kitchen. Again, Varner demanded to know where
the victim could have gone without a jacket, and Varner and
Freeman began to go from room to room, "yelling"
the victim's name. While they searched the house, the
defendant followed closely behind, pleading with them to
again passed through the kitchen, Varner noticed for the
first time what he believed to be a bloody fingerprint on the
wall. At some point, Varner and Freeman walked past the door
to the basement stairs. When they looked down, they
discovered the bloody body of the victim. Varner told the
defendant that he was calling the police before he and
Freeman left the scene. Varner placed his first telephone
call to 911 at 11:42 P. M.
approximately 3 A.M. on Tuesday, January 18, 2000, the
defendant contacted a friend, Bernard Williams, and asked him
to come over to his house. The defendant confessed to
Williams that he had stabbed the victim to death and had
thrown his body down the stairs. Williams testified that the
defendant killed the victim because "things had built up
for a long time . . . [t]hey weren't treating him right
... it was over money and disrespect."
close of the Commonwealth's case, the defendant's
motion for a required finding of not guilty due to
insufficient evidence was denied. The jury found the
defendant guilty of murder in the first degree on theories of
premeditation and extreme atrocity or cruelty, and the
entry of the defendant's appeal in this court, he filed a
motion for a new trial asserting that his trial counsel had
been ineffective for failing to investigate and use an alibi
defense and forensic evidence, and for failing to impeach a
key witness for the Commonwealth. The motion judge, who also
was the trial judge, denied that motion without a hearing,
and she also denied the defendant's motion for
reconsideration without a hearing. The defendant appealed
from the denial.
filing a motion for deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing,
which was granted, the defendant filed a second motion for a
new trial. After an evidentiary hearing, the defendant's
motion was denied. He appealed, and that appeal was
consolidated in this court with the appeal from his
conviction and with the appeal from the denial of his first
motion for a new trial.
Denial of motion for a required finding of not
defendant argues he was entitled to a not guilty verdict as a
matter of law because there was legally insufficient evidence
connecting him to the crime. Specifically, he argues that the
lack of forensic evidence no murder weapon was found, no DNA
linked the defendant to the crime, and there was no
definitive shoe print match "vindicate[s]" him in
the face of "the testimony of professed crack cocaine
addicts or others with a motive to lie."
court must determine whether the evidence was sufficient to
satisfy a rational trier of fact of each element of the crime
beyond a reasonable doubt. Commonwealth v. Latimore,
378 Mass. 671, 677-678 (1979). "The relevant question is
whether the evidence would permit a jury to find guilt, not
whether the evidence requires such a finding."
Commonwealth v. Brown, 401 Mass. 745, 747 (1988).
The evidence against the defendant was substantial. Two
witnesses placed the defendant at the scene of the crime, one
of whom effectively witnessed the defendant murder the
victim. Two other witnesses arrived on the scene as the
defendant was attempting to dispose ...