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Retesting of DNA Warrants New Trial from Massachusetts Murder Conviction

A defendant’s motion for new trial from his conviction in a 1986 murder was upheld by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court as a result of re-testing of critical forensic evidence.

In the case of Commonwealth v. Sullivan, the SJC affirmed the trial judge’s allowance of the defendant’s new trial motion from his convictions of 1st degree murder and armed robbery because forensic testing, technology not then available at the time of trial, would have been a substantial factor in the jury’s deliberations.

In this case, the defendant was convicted in the death of the victim in 1986. The evidence at trial illustrated two different eyewitness accounts: one version implicating the defendant in the killing; and the other that he was not even present at the scene at the time. One of the key pieces of evidence suggesting to implicate the defendant was the jacket he was wearing on the day of the murder…

At trial, the prosecutor argued that forensic testing on the jacket indicated the presence of blood on the cuffs; and a hair fiber found within the jacket was ‘consistent’ with a hair from the victim. This evidence was the only physical link between the defendant and the crime. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that this evidence clearly was a substantial factor considered by the jury in there decision to vote for a conviction.

In 2011, however, the defendant had the evidence re-testing, and new forensic testing was able to establish that the spots on the jacket were not blood; that DNA recovered from the jacket were not that of the victim; and that the hair strand could not conclusively be said to have come from the victim.

As a result of this newly discovered evidence, the SJC agreed that, had this information been available to the defendant at the time of his trial, he could have argued to the jury that there was no direct physical link between him and the killing of the victim. The evidence, therefore, cast “real doubt on the justice of the defendant’s conviction.”

Boston Criminal Defense Lawyer Lefteris K. Travayiakis is available 24/7 for consultation on all Massachusetts Crimes, including Murder; and can be reached directly at 617-325-9500 or by Web Contact.