I have been bouncing back and forth between the Boston Police Union vs. Body Cams follies and the return to…that other Department…in terms of topics for the blog this week.
I think, as a prelude to both, I should bring you a case in which the Supreme Judicial Court has just agreed that Mr. Sean Ellis (hereinafter, the “Defendant”) should be granted a new trial.
According to the Boston Herald , the Defendant was charged with shooting and killing Police Officer John Mulligan at approximately 3:30a.m. on September 26, 1993. The Defendant was convicted after trial in 1995.
According to the Commonwealth, Officer Mulligan had been on a security detail at the time. Allegedly in his car, asleep.
For some reason, the case was tried several times before he was finally convicted in 1995 and sentenced to a life sentence.
As it turned out, however, there were issues which dwelled beneath the simplistic view of the shooting which the Commonwealth wished to share with either the jury…or the defense.
This undisclosed evidence turned out to demonstrate that Officer Mulligan was part of a corrupt scheme with other Boston police detectives who eventually investigated his murder. The Court found that this new evidence cast doubt on whether the Defendant’s conviction was just, according to a unanimous SJC.
“A reasonable jury likely would have had diminished confidence in the integrity and thoroughness of the police investigation in general,” Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants wrote. “Not only would this likely have caused them to question the reliability of some of the evidence presented by the prosecution, it also may have elevated in significance certain aspects of the investigation that may otherwise have appeared unimportant.”
The Commonwealth, of course, is unhappy with the decision. It seems that the nonproduction of evidence to the defense was, and is, not seen as much of a problem to the law enforcement community, who’s job it is to “do justice”. Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley’s office has announced that it will try the case again. For a fourth time.
“Prosecutors fully expect to re-try[the Defendant] for first-degree murder in Detective Mulligan’s homicide,” Suffolk DA spokesman Jake Work said in a statement. “Never once in more than 20 years has a single piece of reliable evidence undercut the compelling case against [the Defendant], and we intend to present that case to a jury once again.”
Of course you are.
No comment as to why the office had felt it necessary to hide the evidence in the first place.
The upcoming new trial is expected to focus on police corruption in Boston during the 1980s and 1990s. Rosemary Scapicchio, Ellis’ longtime defense attorney, said she is calling on state and federal authorities to look into how the Boston Police Department was run during that time and indicated that there may be other cases affected by corrupt cops.
“We’re calling for an investigation into how and why something like this could happen,” she said. “How can a police department be able to withhold exculpatory evidence for so many years and get away with it? We can’t be sure that [the Defendant] n is the only one.”
Attorney Sam’s Take On Law And Order Integrity
I have seen this battle on both sides…back when I was a prosecutor and since, as a criminal defense lawyer. There are various levels to and, often, fairly honest reasoning. However, the issue that this case brings up (again) is the question of what integrity, veracity and non-criminal behavior can we expect from our criminal justice agencies.
It’s a growing and important question as the instances of civilian cameras are revealing more and more evidence of police misdeeds. We know that there are “bad guys” out there, but as we try to determine what happens on the streets, the courts rely on police testimony.
And they generally do not assume the police witnesses are the “bad guys”.
They tend to treat it almost as gospel.
If we cannot rely on this, then we had better change how we handle cases.
The problem is that it almost seems as if our agencies are doing all but wearing t-shirts saying “Do Not Trust Me.”
The other side of this problem is that it also endangers police officers, most of whom tend to be honest. If folks cannot assume a certain level of behavior from police encounters then they feel they must take the law, and their safety, into their own hands.
With this in mind, let’s revisit the recent developments in the police-cam follies….in my next blog.
In the meantime, have a great, safe and law abiding weekend!