Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Padlock, the Text Message and Perjury

After a jury empaneled by the Middlesex County Superior Court convicted Roger Beattie of two counts of perjury in violation of 268 Massachusetts General Laws §1, Beattie appealed.  Commonwealth v. Beattie, 87 Mass. App. Ct. 1121, 31 N.E.3d 76 (Massachusetts Appeals Court 2015).  On appeal, Beattie argued that the trial judge “erroneously denied his motion for required findings of not guilty and limited his closing argument.”  Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  
The appellate court began its opinion by explaining how the prosecution arose:
On August 27, 2010, [Beattie] lived at 382 Salem Street in Medford with his girlfriend Vera Leder. Several other people rented rooms in the multifamily residence, including Christopher Toppi and Andrea Spears. [Beattie] and a group of people including Toppi spent the evening of August 27 and into the early morning hours of August 28 drinking and socializing around Boston, ending up at Lansdowne Street near Fenway Park.

[Beattie] and Leder left Lansdowne Street and returned to 382 Salem Street, where they discovered that Spears had a male guest in the room she previously had shared with Toppi. [Beattie] called Luke Brennan, whom he knew to be driving Toppi to Toppi's mother's house in Cambridge, and asked to speak with Toppi. [Beattie] told Toppi about the male in Spears's room, and Toppi ordered Brennan to return to 382 Salem Street.

Toppi arrived at 382 Salem Street, went directly to the third floor, and kicked in Spears's door. He then beat the male, later identified as Brian Fahey, to death. [Beattie] and Leder were in the doorway swearing at Spears while the beating occurred. [Beattie] eventually pulled Toppi off of Fahey and out of the room, while Leder called 911. Toppi told Brennan to take him to his mother's house in Cambridge, which Brennan did.

Brennan returned to 382 Salem Street the next day and spoke with [Beattie] about the attack. [Beattie] told Brennan that Toppi had sent him a text message asking the defendant `to get rid of the lock.’ [Beattie] later told Toppi's mother that someone may have passed her son a padlock wrapped in a towel or pillowcase during the attack.
Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  
You can, if you are interested, read more about the facts in the case in the news stories you can find here and here.
In a footnote to a sentence in the passages quoted above, the court notes that, at Beattie’s trial, the prosecution “alleged that a padlock was the murder weapon.” Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  The same allegation appears in the news story you can find here.
The opinion goes on to explain that a
grand jury was convened `to begin an investigation into the facts and circumstances surrounding a death that occurred in Medford on August 28 of 2010.’ At that point, Toppi had been arrested and charged with murder in the first degree.

On September 2, 2010, [Beattie] testified before the grand jury that he had not seen Toppi after leaving Lansdowne Street early in the morning of August 28, and that he had no communications with Toppi after the telephone call he made telling Toppi about Spears's guest. In February, 2011, [Beattie] was indicted on two counts of perjury in violation of 268 Massachusetts General Laws §1.
Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  
And the news story you can find here explains, after Beattie was arrested but before he was indicted, the local District Attorney made a statement to the press in which he said
`[t]his defendant is alleged to have provided false statements regarding his critical knowledge of matters material to a homicide investigation,’ District Attorney Leone said in a statement.  `This office takes such deliberate tampering with the pursuit of justice very seriously and we will charge those who intentionally interfere with our prosecution of a case.’
As Wikipedia explains, a grand jury is
a legal body that is empowered to . . . investigate potential criminal conduct and to determine whether criminal charges should be brought. A grand jury may compel the production of documents and may compel the sworn testimony of witnesses to appear before it. A grand jury is separate from the courts, which do not preside over its functioning.

The United States is virtually the only country that retains grand juries. . . . Grand juries perform both accusatory and investigatory functions. The investigatory functions of the grand jury include obtaining and reviewing documents and other evidence and hearing the sworn testimony of witnesses that appear before it. 

The grand jury's accusatory function is to determine whether or not there is probable cause to believe that one or more persons committed a certain offence within the venue of the district court.

A grand jury in the United States is usually composed of 12 to 23 citizens. . . . A grand jury is so named because traditionally it has a greater number of jurors than a trial jury, called a petty jury (from the French word petit meaning `small’).
Getting back to Beattie, the Appeals Court began its analysis of his appeal by explaining that
`[t]he crime of perjury in a judicial proceeding occurs whenever one “wil[ ]fully swears or affirms falsely in a matter material to the issue or point in question.”’ Commonwealth v. Geromini, 357 Mass. 61 (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 1970), quoting from [Massachusetts General Laws] c. 268, § 1). The defendant does not dispute that his statements to the grand jury were false.

However, he claims that his motion for required findings of not guilty should have been allowed because his false statements could not have been material to a first-degree murder indictment that had not yet issued. The defendant contends that his statements may have been material to the grand jury's investigation, but that the Commonwealth's failure to include “investigation” in the indictment renders the proof at trial insufficient.

We review the judge's denial of the defendant's motion for required findings of not guilty to determine `whether the evidence offered by the Commonwealth, together with reasonable inferences therefrom, when viewed in its light most favorable to the Commonwealth, was sufficient to persuade a rational jury beyond a reasonable doubt of the existence of every element of the crime charged.’ Commonwealth v. Campbell, 378 Mass. 680 (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 1979).
Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  
The Supreme Judicial Court then went on to explain that
[t]he indictments in this case set forth `the time, place and circumstances of the [defendant's] alleged perjury.’ Commonwealth v. Baron, 356 Mass. 362 (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 1969) (Baron). They alleged that the false statements were made after the defendant `was lawfully sworn as a witness before the Middlesex County Grand Jury on an issue within the jurisdiction of said tribunal[,]’ `said issue’ being `a capital case to wit: 1st degree murder.’

The indictments conformed with the statutory form, see Massachusetts General Laws c. 277, § 43 and were sufficient. See Commonwealth v. Baron, supra. See also Commonwealth v. Pikul, 407 Mass. 336 (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 1990), (quoting from Massachusetts Rules of Criminal Procedure 4(a), 378 Mass. 849 (1979) (`To be sufficient, ‘[a]n indictment . . . shall contain . . . a plain, concise description of the act which constitutes the crime or an appropriate legal term descriptive thereof’).
Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  
Having disposed of those issues, the court took up Beattie’s next argument, which was that
[i]nsofar as [he] claims his statements could not have been material to an indictment that had yet to issue, there is no dispute that `[t]he focus of the grand jury's investigation was whether’ the circumstances surrounding Fahey's death constituted murder in the first degree. Commonwealth v. Silva, 401 Mass. 318 (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 1987).

The grand jury had to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to establish the identity of the person accused of killing Fahey and probable cause to arrest him, Commonwealth v. McCarthy, 385 Mass. 160 (Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 1982), and `[t]he questions asked of the defendant during his testimony were obviously material to th[at] . . . investigation. . . .’ Commonwealth v. Baron, supra.

It was for the jury to decide whether the defendant's statements that he had not seen Toppi at 382 Salem Street on the night of the murder or communicated with him thereafter `either “directly or circumstantially had a reasonable and natural tendency” to influence the decision whether to bring [an] indictment[ ]’ for murder against Toppi, . . . and because `[a] rational trier of fact could have found that the defendant's [statements were] “material” to the grand jury's investigation of [murder] . . . the trial judge did not err in denying the defendant's motion for a required finding on the issue of materiality.’ Commonwealth v. Silva, supra.
Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  
Finally, the appellate court explained that
[w]e have reviewed the defendant's remaining claim, that the trial judge impermissibly restricted defense counsel's closing argument, and find it to be without merit. The defendant argued the evidence as he intended, notwithstanding the judge's ruling to the contrary.
Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  
The court therefore affirmed Beattie’s convictions for two counts of perjury.
Commonwealth v. Beattie, supra.  And as this news story explains, after Beattie was convicted he was sentenced “to up to 6 years in state prison”.  

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