Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

Lawrence Jury Finds Murder Defendant Guilty Despite Self-Defense Claim

19-year-old Lynn man Walter C. (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) faced Justice last week, attorney by his side, in Lawrence Superior Court. The verdict was guilty. The sentence was life in state prison. The charge was second-degree murder taking place in August, 2008. Any change of fate is now in any potential appeal.

The jury had been out for approximately four hours before returning a lesser verdict of second-degree murder – an intentional killing done with malice – instead of first-degree premeditated murder initially charged against the Defendant by the state. Immediately, the Defendant was given the mandatory punishment of life in state prison. Normally, the Defendant would be eligible for parole after serving 15 years in state prison. However, he was also found guilty of carrying a firearm and given a consecutive 30 month sentence to serve.

The Commonwealth alleges that the homicide was the result of the drug trade. They alleged that the deceased’s cousin had told the him that the Defendant had stolen $30 and several bags of marijuana. When the deceased went looking for the Defendant and confronted him, the deceased apparently shot once at the Defendant, but missed him. The Defendant then chased down the deceased and shot him in the head, killing him.

The Defendant took the stand and admitted firing the gun, but said he was being shot at and defended himself under a combat situation.

The Defendant was indicted by an Essex County grand jury in October of 2008 and has been held in custody without bail since his arrest. The judge credited him the 439 days he spent in custody awaiting trial.

Attorney Sam’s Take:

Clearly, the apparent defense in this case was that of “self-defense”. The laws regarding self-defense can be a bit complicated, but the bottom line is that, if you reasonably feel you are in immediate danger, you may use the same amount of force as that which is being used against you. In this case, the Defendant did use the same amount of force. That was not the issue.

The issue was whether this was really a self-defense case. It would appear that the deceased did try to shoot the Defendant…but missed. The Defendant, however, apparently did not run away. He is said to have chased the deceased and killed him during said chase.

The Defendant claimed that this was under “combat conditions”. It may have been, but the United States has not declared war in cities north of Boston. In other words, it is not a valid war. It was basically drug traffic battle. Not the same thing, not the same view on the part of society.

That being said…the jury did not reject the Defendant’s position altogether. While the Commonwealth wanted a conviction of Murder in the First Degree, which would have brought a life without the possibility of parole sentence, the jury found the Defendant guilty of the lesser charge. This gave the Defendant the possibility of parole in 15 years (and after the additional sentence for the gun possession).

It may not have been the victory that the Defendant was looking for, but it was a victory of sorts.

As I have often mentioned, the “self help approach” to criminal justice does not work out very well. In this case, had it been the deceased who’s aim was true, it would have been he who was facing the jury. Gunfights of this nature are treated quite seriously by the Commonwealth, particularly since innocent people are often hit in the cross-fire.

In many cases, finding the suspect’s identity is a problem and so the Commonwealth will conduct an investigation into the matter. When that happens, it becomes rather dicey for those who may or may not have been around the shooting because once the Commonwealth believes you are a witness with information you want…well, it is hard to convince them otherwise.
Often, this leads to a lot of trouble, particularly if you try to handle it alone.

If you find yourself facing shooting or murder charges, who perhaps are being implicated in an ongoing investigation, you want the aid of an experienced criminal defense attorney by your side. I have handled such matters for many years first as a homicide prosecutor and, then, as a defense attorney. If you would like to discuss the matter with me, please feel free to call me at (617) 206-1942.

For the full article upon which today’s blog is based, go to http://www.itemlive.com/articles/2009/11/13/news/news02.txt

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