SJC’s Taveres Case Requires Better Jury Instructions

Florida JusticeYvonne Abraham wrote a compelling column in the Globe telling how Angel Ecchavia has just been granted a new trial after 21 years in prison for the first degree murder of a drug dealer in “the city of sin.” Ecchavia, like every other guy in prison, proclaimed his innocence. She writes: “No physical evidence linked him to the crime. He refused a plea deal, certain the truth would protect him.” She does not tell us what the deal was. I assume it might have been life in prison on a plea to second degree murder with a chance of parole after 15 years. Probably the best reason he went to trial is at age 27 he figured had to gamble that he could beat the charges.

The evidence was that six men were waiting in Isidoro Rogriguez’s apartment to buy drugs while Isidoro and his brother Daniel were out; two armed men went to an apartment where they held the six hostage, when Isidoro and Daniel returned they tied up Isidoro and threw him to the floor, and then took Daniel to the bathroom and murdered him. Isidoro identified Ecchavia as one of those men.

In her advocacy for Ecchavia Abraham makes the following assertions: “Isidoro tentatively identified a man named Mariano Bonifacio as one of the attackers, picking two different pictures of him from photo arrays. . . . Nor did prosecutors tell Echavarria’s lawyers about the possibility of another suspect, though the defense lawyer asked. It’s unclear, incredibly enough, whether police ever bothered to tell the DA about Bonifacio.” Reading that I thought “Pretty bad,” especially since it happened in 1994 at a time when this information was routinely given to defense counsel.

I went to the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) decision of Commonwealth v. Echavaria on the matter and read the facts. Part of them stated: Shortly after the killing [Isodoro] had picked out a person, who was not one of the men, from a photographic array, saying that he looked like one of them.”  It is clear from that Abraham is incorrect. The police told the DA and the DA told Echavaria’s lawyers about the Banafacio matter since it was part of the trial record on appeal.

Abraham goes on to do a job on the defense counsel as being somewhat of a hack and incompetent. The SJC noted, “Isidoro was subjected to one and one-half days of intense cross-examination. Although he certainly exhibited the failings pointed out now by the defendant, and these were made evident to the jury as well and emphasized by counsel in his cross-examination and in his closing argument,. . . “ which presents him in a different light.

Abraham twisting the facts in her column does not speak well for her candor.

The Echavaria decision has a similar fact situation to that of the Taveres and Hernandez cases. In that case there were no witnesses to the murder of Daniel Rodriguez. The two armed men brought the other men in the apartment into other rooms where they were bound. Daniel was left behind. Daniel was then taken into the bathroom where he was “shot twice in the head, apparently at close range and through a pillow that had been used to muffle the noise of the shots.” No one knew who fired the shots or any circumstances relating to what happened prior to the shooting.

The court noted that although no one saw the shooting the evidence was sufficient to support the inference that one of the two men did the shooting and it was part of a joint venture. The jury had to find “that the defendants together actively participated in the commission of the crime or crimes charged, sharing the same mental state or intent. . . .”  (My emphasis.)

That is pretty much the instruction given in the Taveres and Hernandez cases. The problem is in Taveres we learned that more is required. The jury can certainly find the person who pulled the trigger had the intent to bring about the victim’s death. But what about the other person or persons present; what was his or their intent?

The Taveres decision states the defendant who did not do the shooting: “may have had different mental states or levels of culpability with respect to the act.” It said because Taveres did not do the shooting “the evidence of the [Taveres] intention was open to a number of different interpretations.”

Would not that be the case in every joint enterprise where there is no evidence about what happened at the actually killing; that is, no evidence as to who pulled the trigger?  The Taveres decision said: “(1) the judge did not explain to the jury during her instruction on joint venture that the codefendants could be convicted of different offenses; and (2) the evidence relating to the defendant would have supported an instruction on involuntary manslaughter, . . . “ I do not know if that was done in the Hernandez case but it seems it should have been.

Two guys A and B hold up C. Walking away one turns, shoots and murders C. There is no evidence as to who pulled the trigger. We know the mental state of the one firing the gun. How can we say the other had the same mental state? Without more does not it come down to guessing? Should juries be able to guess?

If A and B planned not to shoot C. But A double crossed B and shot C. B should not be held to the same culpability as A.

The Taveres case makes it clear that the words in the jury instructions “shared the same mental state or intent” are not enough in these joint venture cases. The jury must be better informed. The instructions should be less boilerplate and more designed to fit the facts. That is the way it should be.


9 replies on “SJC’s Taveres Case Requires Better Jury Instructions”

  1. Documentary was done on Biography about Anthony Shea and No Name gang i think it was called. It was a decent info not much deep detail. Shea had fallen into the physical addiction of heroin and it is stated that it ruined his performance as a top notch stick-up bandit, Once his blood was found in a broken window of a bank job and those two armored guards were brutally executed after stealing the truck, it was over. Cop said at the end when he was in cuffs he was already getting dope sick in the car, Heroin is a ball and chain, all opiates make you pay for the glory and euphoria it provides for you on a short term basis. Sorry for the digression. Great post Matt!

  2. To plan not to shoot someone necessarily invokes the mental contemplation of shooting that someone, the luckless “C” , and its consequences . This is psychological and intellectual dualism imprinted on our neurons ; the necessity of understanding something wholly only because its diametrical opposite comepletes that ” Whole. ” Let’s not belabor it. Your point illustrative in a general way is more experimental in reasoning than intended to be definitive ; Understood. “B” is screwed in your scenario simply because “A” is an impulsive psychopath. But it is that very same ” Psycho Path” if you will that ” B ” chose to walk down with the mercurial ” A .” As the Judge says ….. Nexxxxxxxxxxtttttt !!!!!!!! … Otherwise ” Joint Venture ” becomes ” Joint Misadventure ” . A very different animal .

  3. The Anthony Shea Criminal Career History should be a course in school for all young kids who might think crime is the road to pursue. Heroin was a big factor in his mindset, not a good partner to have while trying to be efficient in your score. Would really like to know how he is holding up inside the walls.

    1. Doubting:

      Great comment. I had to look up Anthony Shea. He’s been in about 20 years. He has probably adjusted by now. I don’t think he will be released while he’s still upright. Surprised to read in a story about him that: “Between 1975 and 1992, 33 of Charlestown’s 49 murders were unsolved, a no-arrest rate double other Boston neighborhoods.” I’m not sure that is correct as far as being double other neighborhoods, there never were many arrests in Boston for the gang murders. Also surprised to read: “Between 1990 and 1996, the Boston area averaged 16 armored car robberies a year, three times more than statewide averages across the country. One in five armored car heists in this country happened here.” You know what, Whitey had nothing to do with any of them so you would think that if he were such a big criminal boss he would have taken a cut. I guess even he knew that the Townies, and by the way the guys from Charlestown were the Townies and not the guys from South Boston as some of the so-called expert authors have written.

  4. If one is in a joint venture to commit a robbery he obviously shares the mental state to commit that crime. If in the course of that crime a killing occurs isn’t that felony murder? Would a jury have to evaluate each individuals state of mind in an armored car robbery by five guys from Charlestown where a Brinks guard is killed? ( Anthony Shea). It would seem all five would be guilty of first degree murder irrespective of who pulled the trigger. 2. Were you surprised that the Globe distorted or falsified the facts? Were you shocked to see a negative article on Murphy and Powers? Or do you see a pattern with smears against Charlie and Tim Flaherty, Connolly, Fitzpatrick, Quinn, king, Bulger, Murphy, Finneran, Finnerty and O’Brien? It is as easy to trace the racial and religious hostility of the Globe as was to find that bias in the Klan. 3. The trial judge in the Tavares case was the dishonest and corrupt judge Big Bird Donovan. No wonder it was overturned. A total hack.

    1. NC:

      1. You talk about the law as it used to be. I suggest Taveres has turned it on its head. It seems if two guys plan to rob a bank and one with the gun murders the teller the other guy can put up a defense that he had no intention to do the shooting. Not that the jury will buy it but the decision made it a little more difficult for the prosecution. Anthony Shea was tried in federal court where there are less protections but I do think in the state course you would have to show the intent of each of the armed car robbers when it came to the shooting.

      2. I don’t think any fair minded person could suggest the Globe did not have an animus toward the Irish. It always had some Irish as part of it but they were the J. Arthur type Irish that looked down on the blue collar type.

      3. I don’t know how you can say that about Judge Donovan: she was a former nun.

  5. “Justice is slow, justice after conviction is glacial” Yvonne Abraham May 17, 2015. If Yvonne and the Globe are so concerned about slow justice they should be outraged with the inhumane treatment of John Connolly who continues to languish in a Florida prison even though the court REVERSED his conviction. At a minimum he should be out on bail pending further appeals.

    1. Eyre:

      True. Mentioning John Connolly though makes me upset. I’ll write a post on him but the theory behind his involvement in the matter is so puerile that none but the most malicious could have used it to go after him. The reason Yvonne is not concerned about him is that he was one of the Globe’s targets because of his relationship to South Boston where in the Globe’s mind all evil lurks.

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