Saturday, September 10, 2016

SJC orders new trial in Boston detective’s slaying

The state’s highest court concluded Friday that a Dorchester man convicted for the 1993 murder of Boston Police Detective John J. Mulligan was unfairly tried, affirming a lower court judge’s ruling that corrupt officers played an outsized role in the original investigation.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that Sean K. Ellis is entitled to a new trial in connection with the Sept. 26, 1993, murder of Mulligan, a controversial detective who was shot five times in the face while sleeping in his SUV outside a Roslindale Walgreens while on a private detail.

Ellis, who once faced the real possibility of dying behind bars, has been free on bail since 2015 after now-retired Superior Court Judge Carol Ball concluded Ellis’s trial was unfair, a conclusion that the SJC agreed Friday was warranted.

“I am ecstatic,” Ellis said Friday sitting beside his attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio. “I am happy to be home enjoying my family and my freedom.”

Ellis said he would be willing to meet with Boston police officers to relay his feelings about being jailed for 22 years, though he does not believe they would be willing to listen.

“I would ask that they take another look, not only at my situation but at the department as a whole, to make sure justice is being done in every case in Massachusetts,’’ he said.

Scapicchio said Ball’s ruling, coupled with the SJC’s endorsement of her findings, warrants an investigation by either the state attorney general or the US attorney into the actions of the Boston police in the 1980s and 1990s.

“You have a 19-year-old black man who was put in jail for 22 years, who didn’t get a fair trial and evidence was withheld from the defense that police absolutely knew about,’’ she said. “Something was wrong with the system back then. Do you think Sean is an anomaly?’’

Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office, which had inherited the case, plans to put Ellis on trial for the fourth time. “Never once in more than 20 years has a single piece of reliable evidence undercut the compelling case against Mr. Ellis, and we intend to present that case to a jury once again,’’ Conley’s office said in a statement.

Prosecutors said the SJC ruling may have given Ellis’s defense an alternative trial strategy, but neither Ball nor the SJC identified evidence of Ellis’s “actual innocence.’’ Moreover, prosecutors noted, the murder weapon and Mulligan’s stolen service pistol were recovered with the fingerprint of Ellis’s then-girlfriend on the weapon.

Ellis’s conviction for illegally possessing those weapons remains intact, prosecutors noted.

“As the SJC noted, not one shred of information developed since Detective Mulligan’s murder has contradicted the strong evidence on which Ellis was convicted,’’ prosecutors said.

Writing for the unanimous SJC, Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants noted that when the SJC upheld Ellis’s murder conviction in 2000, the court knew about the corrupt detectives. However, he wrote, since then Scapicchio had showed Mulligan was an ally of the corrupt detectives.

“The complicity of the victim in the detectives’ malfeasance fundamentally changes the significance of the detectives’ corruption with respect to their investigation of the victim’s murder,’’ Gants wrote. “These detectives would likely fear that a prolonged and comprehensive investigation of the victim’s murder would uncover leads that might reveal their own criminal corruption.’’

The SJC also agreed with Ball that the defense demonstrated that police had information about other people who might have had a motive to murder Mulligan, but never shared that with the defense as they were constitutionally obligated to do.

In her 67-page ruling, Ball said jurors should have learned that detectives who were heavily involved in the murder investigation were also found to have joined with Mulligan in corrupt acts, including robbing drug dealers of cash and drugs.

Two of the detectives, Kenneth Acerra and Walter Robinson, later pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges; the third, John K. Brazil, was immunized from prosecution in a corruption investigation by a federal judicial order in return for his testimony.

In 2000, Ellis’s co-defendant, Terry Patterson, who was convicted in a separate trial as the person who shot Mulligan, had his conviction vacated after fingerprint evidence linking him to the crime was discredited. Patterson eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was released from prison in 2007.

Original report here

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