Case Style: Commonwealth v. Cassino
Case Number: SJC-11684
Judge: Geraldine S. Hines
Court: Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
Plaintiff's Attorney: Zachary Hillman, Ian Polumbaum
Defendant's Attorney: Azi Safar
Description: In August, 2011, a sixty-five year old woman was
found dead in her apartment in the South Boston section of
Boston. She was the victim of blunt force trauma caused by a
baseball bat. The defendant, Adam Cassino, was indicted for the
crime and a jury convicted him of murder in the first degree on
theories of deliberate premeditation and extreme atrocity or
cruelty. On appeal, the defendant claims (1) error in the
denial of his three motions to suppress evidence stemming from a
claimed illegal search of his clothing and shoes that were
stored in a secured area while he was civilly committed pursuant
to G. L. c. 123, § 35; (2) error in the presentation of
deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) results; (3) error in the failure to
give a diminished capacity instruction; and (4) abuse of
discretion in the judge's juror bias determination. We affirm
the order denying the defendant's motions to suppress as well as
the defendant's convictions, and we discern no basis to exercise
our authority pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 33E.
1. Motion to suppress. a. Background. After the
discovery of the victim's body on August 27, 2011, the police
investigation soon focused on the defendant, the victim's
neighbor, as a possible suspect. The investigation led police
to the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (center)
where the defendant had resided since August 24, 2011, after
being civilly committed for drug treatment under G. L. c. 123,
§ 35. On August 29, 2011, two days after the discovery of the
body, two Boston police detectives went to the center to
interview the defendant. While there, the detectives viewed the
defendant's clothing and shoes and observed reddish brown stains
on the shoes. On August 31, 2011, police applied for and
obtained a warrant seeking the authority to search and seize the
clothing and shoes. The affidavit submitted in support of the
warrant application referenced the reddish brown stains. Later
that same day, police seized the items from the center pursuant
to the warrant.
On September 8, 2011, police submitted applications for two
additional search warrants, one pertaining to the apartment
where the defendant stayed on August 23, 2011, the night before
he was apprehended for the G. L. c. 123, § 35, civil commitment
and the other for the defendant's primary residence. The
affidavits accompanying both applications cited the forensic
evidence obtained from the defendant's shoes, including that DNA
samples from the reddish brown stains matched the known DNA
profile of the victim.
The defendant filed three motions to suppress, claiming, on
State and Federal constitutional grounds, that the viewing of
his clothing and shoes at the center was an illegal, warrantless
search and that the three subsequent search warrants for the
shoes and the two residences, based on that illegal "search,"
lacked probable cause. As background for the analysis of this
issue, we summarize the relevant facts from the affidavit
submitted in support of the warrant application dated August 31,
2011, and from the undisputed testimony adduced at the hearing
on the motion to suppress.
The last known contact with the victim occurred Monday
evening, August 22, 2011, and the last outgoing call from her
cellular telephone was the next afternoon. Police estimated
that the murder occurred sometime between Monday and Tuesday
evenings. During a search of the victim's apartment, police
seized an empty bottle of Clonazepam that was issued to the
victim on August 11, 2011, and initially contained ninety pills.
Police believed, based on witness interviews,1 that the victim
had been having ongoing problems with the defendant and that he
had stolen her prescription medication and other belongings in
the past. A neighbor reported that the defendant stole
prescription medicine from her that Monday. The defendant told
police that he met with the victim that Monday evening to
discuss buying pills. He stated that he would have purchased
some, but he did not have any money.
Blood on the victim's hands and nails indicated that she
struggled with, and possibly caused injury to, her attacker.
1 The affidavit does not state whether these interviews occurred before or after detectives spoke with the defendant and viewed his personal property at the Massachusetts Alcohol and Substance Abuse Center (center) on August 29, 2011. The Commonwealth may rely on evidence obtained before or after an illegal search if it can show that the evidence was independently obtained. Commonwealth v. Estabrook, 472 Mass. 852, 868 n.26 (2015).
Moreover, the police asserted in the search warrant affidavit
that "the damage to the victim coupled by the amount of blood
throughout the scene showed an extreme force which would have
made it very difficult for any person involved, or even present,
to avoid a transfer of some blood evidence to either themselves
or their clothing or footwear."
The defendant's mother told police that the defendant was
taken into custody for civil commitment on a warrant of
apprehension on August 24, 2011, a process she started the day
before because of the defendant's substance abuse. The
defendant arrived at the center with injuries to his hand and
knee. The inner perimeter security commander for the center
testified that booking and admission procedures require that the
clothing and shoes of a person committed under G. L. c. 123,
§ 35, be taken and stored in a secure property storage area.
Property is returned to its owner after discharge, or it is
transferred to follow the owner to any future confinement.
On August 29, 2011, two Boston police detectives
interviewed the defendant at the center and requested to view
the defendant's personal property.2 A sergeant retrieved the
2 The Commonwealth contests the motion judge's finding that the viewing occurred at the request of the detectives, asserting a lack of evidence to support this finding. We are not persuaded that the finding is clearly erroneous because the affidavit supporting one of the September 8 warrant applications
property from the storage facility, opened the bag containing
the defendant's clothing and shoes, and lifted the items out of
the bag so that the detectives could view the items. As noted,
reddish brown stains were visible on the defendant's shoes.
b. Discussion. "In reviewing a ruling on a motion to
suppress, we accept the judge's subsidiary findings of fact
absent clear error 'but conduct an independent review of [his]
ultimate findings and conclusions of law.'" Commonwealth v.
Craan, 469 Mass. 24, 26 (2014), quoting Commonwealth v. Scott,
440 Mass. 642, 646 (2004). We "make an independent
determination of the correctness of the judge's application of
constitutional principles." Commonwealth v. Woods, 466 Mass.
707, 717, cert. denied, 134 S. Ct. 2855 (2014), quoting
Commonwealth v. Mercado, 422 Mass. 367, 369 (1996).
The judge denied the defendant's motions, concluding that
the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the
clothing and shoes when the officers first observed them at the
center and that all three warrants were supported by probable
cause. On appeal, the defendant reprises his argument that the
viewing of his personal items was a warrantless search that
unlawfully infringed on his reasonable expectation of privacy
and tainted the three warrant applications.
stated that the detectives requested a view of the defendant's property.
"Warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable, under
both the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and
art. 14 of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, subject only
to 'a few specifically established and well-delineated
exceptions.'" Commonwealth v. Gouse, 461 Mass. 787, 792 (2012),
quoting Commonwealth v. Bostock, 450 Mass. 616, 624 (2008).
The defendant bears the "burden of showing that a warrantless
search or seizure occurred." Commonwealth v. Bly, 448 Mass.
473, 490 (2007), citing Commonwealth v. D'Onofrio, 396 Mass.
711, 714-715 (1986). "This question is analyzed under the
familiar two-part query whether [the defendant] had a subjective
expectation of privacy in the items seized, and if so, whether
that expectation was reasonable objectively." Bly, supra.
The defendant asserts that he had a subjective expectation
of privacy that society would deem reasonable because he
surrendered his personal property with the expectation the
property would be returned to him. He asserts that the storage
of his property in compliance with the center's policy created
an involuntary bailment and the sergeant exceeded his authority
by producing the items for viewing by detectives. The
Commonwealth counters that any expectation of privacy the
defendant may have had was not reasonable, analogizing to
Commonwealth v. Silva, 471 Mass. 610, 619-620 (2015), in which
we considered whether a pretrial detainee who was on notice of
the facility's policy treating detainee and inmate clothing as
contraband has a constitutionally protectable privacy interest
in such clothing. We held that there was not, because any
expectation of privacy was not objectively reasonable under
those circumstances. Id. Our decision in Silva is not
dispositive, however, because the center had no policy treating
the defendant's property as contraband. The center's policy
specifically distinguishes between street clothes, shoes, and
Although the defendant's challenge to the search warrant
rests on the claim that the police viewing of his property was
an illegal search, we bypass the issue because the legality of
the search is not determinative of the propriety of the judge's
order denying the motion to suppress. The denial of the
defendant's motions to suppress was proper under the principle
that, "[e]ven though the exclusionary rule generally bars from
admission evidence 'obtained during an illegal search as fruit
of the poisonous tree, evidence initially discovered as a
3 Under the section titled, "Property for Commitments," which is applicable to the defendant's status as a person civilly committed pursuant to G. L. c. 123, § 35, the policy states, "When a commitment is admitted into the institution, his street clothes (except shoes and/or contraband) will be inventoried, laundered, boxed and stored in the Property Room." The defendant in Commonwealth v. Silva, 471 Mass. 610, 615 n.14 (2015), signed an intake form stating that his personal property would be treated as contraband. Conversely, the intake records submitted in this case do not make any such reference.
consequence of an unlawful search may be admissible if later
acquired independently by lawful means untainted by the initial
illegality.'" Commonwealth v. Estabrook, 472 Mass. 852, 865
(2015), quoting Commonwealth v. DeJesus, 439 Mass. 616, 624
(2003). Accordingly, the evidence deriving from the defendant's
shoes was admissible "as long as the affidavit in support of the
application for a search warrant contains information sufficient
to establish probable cause to [seize the defendant's shoes],
apart from the observation of the [reddish brown stains]."
Commonwealth v. Gray, 465 Mass. 330, 346, cert. denied, 134 S.
Ct. 628 (2013), quoting DeJesus, supra at 625. To establish
probable cause, "[a]n affidavit must contain sufficient
information for an issuing magistrate to determine that the
items sought are related to the criminal activity under
investigation, and that the items reasonably may be expected to
be located in the place to be searched at the time the search
warrant issues." Commonwealth v. Almonte, 465 Mass. 224, 233
(2013), quoting Commonwealth v. Wilson, 427 Mass. 336, 342
The affidavit in support of the warrant to search and seize
the defendant's shoes included the following information. The
defendant previously had stolen prescription medication from the
victim. He admitted to being with her during the period when
the murder was estimated to have occurred. He told police that
he wanted to buy her prescription medication at that time, but
he did not have the money. The defendant was apprehended for
civil commitment to treat substance abuse issues no more than
thirty-six hours after the murder was estimated to have
occurred. The crime scene indicated that the assailant likely
would have injuries and blood evidence on his or her clothing
and shoes. The defendant's clothing and shoes were stored at
the center. The affidavit also linked the defendant to the
victim during the estimated time of her murder, established a
conflict between the two, and created a reasonable inference
that the defendant may have brought some or all of the items he
was wearing at the time of the murder into the center. Thus, we
conclude that the affidavit supporting the August 31 warrant
application contained sufficient facts, traceable to sources
independent of the reddish brown stains observed on August 29,
to establish probable cause.
Because a valid search warrant would have issued regardless
of the inclusion of the reddish brown stains observed on the
defendant's shoes, there was an independent source for the
challenged evidence. See Gray, 465 Mass. at 347. On this
basis, we affirm the denial of the defendant's motion to
suppress the shoes.4 The defendant's challenges to the other two
warrants are premised on the same argument. Although the
defendant claims that the September 8 warrants impermissibly
relied on evidence derived from the shoes, he does not argue
that they otherwise lack probable cause. Because we conclude
that the shoes were lawfully seized, and thus, evidence deriving
from them was properly included in the two affidavits dated
September 8, we do not address those warrants except to note our
agreement with the denial of the defendant's three motions to
2. Trial. a. Background. We recite the facts as the
jury could have found them, reserving other facts for later
discussion. On Saturday, August 27, 2011, the body of the
victim was found by her daughter and the daughter's boy friend.
On Tuesday afternoon, August 23, the victim left a voicemail
message for her daughter. Because the daughter could not
contact her after that voicemail, she went to the victim's
apartment on Friday and Saturday to check on her. On Saturday,
4 We reject the defendant's argument that the independent source doctrine is not appropriate in this case because there was no mistake or inadvertence on the part of police. The independent source doctrine balances the "interest of society in deterring unlawful police conduct and the public interest in having juries receive all probative evidence of a crime . . . by putting the police in the same, not a worse, position [than] they would have been in if no police error or misconduct had occurred." Estabrook, 472 Mass. at 868 n.26, quoting Commonwealth v. Frodyma, 393 Mass. 438, 443 (1984).
the daughter's boy friend entered the apartment through a window
in the rear of the house leading to the victim's bedroom.
Once inside, he saw the apartment in disarray and with
blood in several areas. The victim's feet were sticking out
from under a blanket on the couch. He and the daughter
telephoned 911. They started cleaning up pipes used to smoke
"crack" cocaine and needles that were in the apartment, but then
realized it was a crime scene and placed those items on the
Boston police arrived to process the scene and canvass the
neighborhood for information. A criminalist observed that the
assault had occurred in the main living area and that the body
was later moved to the couch and covered with a blanket. The
victim had severe trauma to the head, and the police did not
find anything in the apartment that was consistent with being
the murder weapon. Police found an empty pill bottle that was
labeled as Clonazepan, filled on August 11, 2013, and has a
brand name of Klonopin. A v-neck T-shirt and gray cut-off
shorts, both wet, were collected from the bathroom.
The medical examiner who performed the autopsy determined
the cause of death to be blunt impact injuries to the victim's
head. He concluded that a cylindrical, round object such as a
baseball bat or pipe caused the injuries. The autopsy revealed
decomposition, which begins approximately thirty-six hours after
death, and mummification, which begins four to five days after
death. From that information, he estimated that death occurred
more than thirty six hours before the body was found, by at
least "several days." The prosecutor argued that the defendant
murdered the victim between late afternoon Tuesday and Wednesday
The victim sold prescription Klonopin pills, sometimes
using the money to purchase "crack" cocaine. The defendant
lived across the street from the victim and had previously
purchased drugs from her. His mother testified that he had
relapsed into taking drugs approximately one week before the
victim's body was found. Although she said that he agreed to go
to a treatment facility for a "few" days, he would not agree to
a longer period. She threatened to have him civilly committed
for treatment several times. The defendant was accused of
stealing prescription pills from a different woman who lived in
the same building as the victim. Following the neighbor's
accusation, the defendant's mother kicked him out of the house
and, on Tuesday afternoon, went to court to have him committed.
The defendant was apprehended for commitment early on
Wednesday morning. Between the time that his mother kicked him
out of the house and when he was apprehended, he stayed at the
nearby house of his friend, Thomas Kinsella. Kinsella's house
and the victim's apartment are connected by a staircase in the
rear of both buildings.
Kinsella and his sister, who was at Kinsella's house on
Tuesday with her young daughter, testified that defendant was
gone for approximately a three-hour period sometime after 2 or
3 P.M. Kinsella's sister testified that the defendant left the
house wearing a white T-shirt and black mesh shorts and returned
sweaty and wearing a black Boston team shirt and cargo shorts.
Kinsella and his sister both testified that defendant said he
had been helping a neighbor with yard work. The neighbor
testified that the defendant did not help him in the yard that
After he returned, the defendant filled two plastic grocery
bags and placed them outside the door to Kinsella's apartment.
A neighbor testified that he saw the defendant's brother placing
a plastic store bag in a trash receptacle in front of a
convenience store, but he could not recall when that occurred.
The defendant's brother testified that he only used the trash
can for his family's home, not the one at the convenience store.
Kinsella and his sister went to bed at approximately
7:30 P.M. The defendant was at Kinsella's house when they went
to bed. Kinsella's sister woke up at approximately 6:30 A.M. on
Wednesday, and the defendant was in the living room with items
from a doughnut shop for her and her daughter.
In addition to the seizure of the defendant's shoes
discussed supra, police seized a baseball bat from Kinsella's
home, which had one fingerprint on the grip and reddish brown
stains. Blood found on the grip, barrel, and butt of the bat
was consistent with the victim's DNA profile.5 Handler DNA taken
from the grip of the bat contained a mixture that was consistent
with three DNA profiles: the victim, the defendant, and
Kinsella.6 When testing for handler DNA, the analyst swipes an
entire area to determine if any nonvisible DNA may be collected
from locations where an item is typically handled. The tongue
of the defendant's right shoe and the sole of the left shoe
contained a mixture of DNA that was consistent with DNA profiles
for the victim and the defendant.7 Kinsella was excluded as a
possible contributor to the DNA found on the shoes.
5 An analyst testified that the statistical probability of a match in the general population to the blood found on the bat consistent with the victim's deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) profile was in the trillions to septillions.
6 The analyst testified that the statistical probability of a match in the general population to the handler DNA found on the grip of the bat consistent with the defendant's DNA was in the millions and billions. No statistics were provided for the handler DNA consistent with the victim or Kinsella.
7 The analyst testified that the statistical probability of a match in the general population to the defendant's DNA found on the sole of the left shoe was one in four Caucasians, one in twenty African Americans, and one in five Southeastern Hispanics. The analyst did not provide statistical probabilities for a match in the general population to the
The defendant, who did not testify or present witnesses,
argued through cross-examination and closing that lack of motive
and faulty police investigation created reasonable doubt. He
named Kinsella as the killer and argued that the defendant's DNA
was on the baseball bat because he took the bat from Kinsella's
niece the morning before he was committed and that Kinsella wore
his shoes to commit the murder.
b. DNA evidence. Relying on Commonwealth v. Mattei, 455
Mass. 840, 855 (2010), in which we held that nonexclusion DNA
results must be presented with statistics explaining the
significance of that evidence, the defendant challenges the
admission of evidence that the victim's blood was on his shoes
because the DNA test results were not provided with statistics.
Where the defendant did not object at trial and claims that
counsel was ineffective for failing to preserve the issue, we
review under G. L. c. 278, § 33E, "to determine whether any
defendant's DNA found on the tongue of the right shoe or the victim's DNA found on either shoe. The parties agreed to enter the DNA report by the Boston police crime laboratory in the appellate record. The conclusions contained in the report demonstrate that the statistical probability for a match in the general population to the victim's DNA on the sole of the left shoe is in the trillions and quintillions, and that the statistical probability for a match in the general population to the victim's DNA on the tongue of the right shoe is in the millions and billions. The report also demonstrates that the statistical probability for a match in the general population to the defendant's DNA on the tongue of the right shoe is one in 8.1 million Caucasians, one in 1.5 billion African-Americans, and one in 130,000 Southeastern Hispanics.
substantial conduct or omission by counsel 'was likely to have
influenced the jury's conclusion.'" Commonwealth v. Montez, 450
Mass. 736, 754 (2008), quoting Commonwealth v. Wright, 411 Mass.
678, 682 (1992), S.C., 469 Mass. 447 (2014).
The defendant's argument is unavailing. The DNA report by
the Boston police crime laboratory was provided to the defendant
before trial. The report stated that the statistical likelihood
of a match in the general population to the victim's DNA profile
taken from the defendant's shoes was in the millions to
quintillions. Where the statistics in this case, if admitted,
would have demonstrated that the likelihood of another person
besides the victim leaving the DNA on the defendant's shoes was
less than one in one million, the evidence would have been
damaging to the defendant. Underlying our holding in Mattei was
the concern that nonexclusion DNA results without statistics
could mislead jurors into thinking that the results are
conclusive when the DNA could have been left by "half the people
in the world." Mattei, 455 Mass. at 852, quoting Commonwealth
v. Mattei, 72 Mass. App. Ct. 510, 522 (2008) (Rubin, J.,
dissenting). Such a concern is not applicable to the facts of
this case, where the statistics would have demonstrated the high
probability that the DNA on the defendant's shoes belonged to
c. Jury instruction on mental impairment. The defendant
argues that the judge committed reversible error by failing to
instruct the jury that they could consider evidence of the
defendant's consumption of drugs as it related to his ability to
act with extreme atrocity or cruelty or with deliberate
premeditation. If requested, a defendant is entitled to such an
instruction. See Commonwealth v. Doucette, 391 Mass. 443, 455
(1984), citing Commonwealth v. King, 374 Mass. 501, 508 (1978)
(premeditation), and Commonwealth v. Perry, 385 Mass. 639, 648
649 (1982), S.C., 424 Mass. 1019 (1997) (extreme atrocity or
cruelty). Additionally, a judge must instruct the jury that
they could consider evidence of a defendant's mental impairment
on the question of extreme atrocity or cruelty where evidence of
such "mental impairment is significant and where it is a
critical aspect of [his] defense." Commonwealth v. Rutkowski,
459 Mass. 794, 799 (2011).
In this case, the defendant did not request such an
instruction or specifically object to its omission. The
defendant requested a manslaughter instruction, and the
Commonwealth objected, arguing that there was no specific
evidence of drug or alcohol use that had any effect on the
defendant's state of mind. The defendant asserted that the
relevant evidence was the Commonwealth's theory that the
defendant "was in such a state of withdrawal that he was willing
and able and actually did . . . kill someone to get her
prescription bottle of Klonopin."8 The judge denied the
defendant's request, and the defendant objected. The defendant
concedes that this discussion was not sufficient to preserve the
issue, and we review to determine if any error created a
substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice.
Commonwealth v. Smith, 449 Mass. 12, 19 (2007), citing
Commonwealth v. Berry, 420 Mass. 95, 113 (1995).
The omission of a mental impairment instruction in this
case did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of
justice. First, mental impairment was not central to his
defense where the defendant argued that someone else was the
perpetrator. See Commonwealth v. Sanna, 424 Mass. 92, 102
(1997). Also, there was nothing close to "significant" evidence
of the defendant's mental impairment. Contrast Rutkowski, 459
Mass. at 798-799.
Several witnesses testified about the defendant's behavior
around the estimated time of the murder. The defendant's mother
and sister both testified that the defendant was "upset" on
8 Trial counsel argued that the "strongest" evidence of the defendant's mental impairment was the judicial determination on August 24, 2011, which occurred according to the Commonwealth's theory between one and twenty-four hours after the murder, that he was in a "state that was associated with drug intoxication and/or withdrawal." The Commonwealth correctly asserted, however, that the judicial finding that led to the commitment is not in evidence.
Monday and Tuesday afternoons because he had been kicked out of
the house. Kinsella testified that the defendant was upset on
Tuesday afternoon before the two- to three-hour period when he
was unaccounted for and that he returned "more relaxed."
Kinsella noted that the defendant had one and one-half Suboxone
pills (a medication to treat opiate dependency) when he
returned, but Kinsella had no knowledge about whether the
defendant took the pills. The police officers who apprehended
the defendant for commitment on Wednesday morning testified that
the defendant appeared "nervous" but cooperated after being told
that he was being committed, and he asked questions relevant to
the apprehension. Significantly, no witness noted that the
defendant appeared impaired or testified to any observations of
the defendant's consumption of drugs or alcohol.
Because any diminished capacity instruction would have been
of minimal significance considering the lack of evidence
demonstrating any mental impairment, we conclude that the
failure to give such an instruction did not create a substantial
likelihood of a miscarriage of justice.
Moreover, it appears that the jury did consider the defendant's mental state in their deliberations. The foreperson submitted the following question to the judge: "When [the defendant] was admitted to the [center] what did his toxicology report read?" The judge responded that the jury must reach a
d. Juror bias. During the afternoon break on the third
day of trial testimony, an individual who had been watching the
trial approached defense counsel and told him that he overheard
two jurors discussing the trial during the morning break. The
judge conducted a voir dire, and the individual explained that
he was at the court for a civil case scheduled for 2 P.M. and
decided to sit in on this trial while he waited. He said he was
outside smoking during the morning break when he heard a female
juror telling a male juror that "the witness was not credible"
and the male respond, "nobody's paying attention to the case,
and he probably guilty already."10 After he heard the two
talking, the individual started eavesdropping by pretending that
he was looking at a statue. The individual told the judge that
he had been falsely accused of murder in the early 1990s, and
the conversation bothered him because he knew from his murder
trial that jurors were not supposed to talk to each other about
the case. The individual provided conflicting testimony about
the timing of his realization that the conversation was between
verdict based on the evidence before them and may not engage in speculation.
10 Later in his voir dire testimony, the individual attributed the statement, "he's probably guilty already," to the female juror.
The judge conducted a voir dire of the two jurors in
question. The female juror, in seat three, testified that she
did not remember speaking to anyone and did not remember making
any statements about a witness's credibility or the guilt of the
defendant. The juror said that she did not "really know all the
jurors so [she did not] speak to any of them" and did not know
"who the black male is with beige pants." Lastly, she told the
judge that she could say with confidence that she did not make
the statements attributed to her.
The judge then conducted a voir dire of the male juror in
seat nine. The juror testified that he did speak with the
female juror, and referred to her correctly by her first name,
but said that they were discussing a case in Florida that was in
the news at the time and did not discuss this case. The juror
stated that the only reference he may have made to this case was
to say that he was keeping a clear mind.
The judge discussed an option of making the female juror an
undisclosed alternate, but instead determined that the juror was
indifferent. He found the two jurors to be credible and the
individual to lack credibility, and he rejected defense
counsel's argument that the testimony by the two jurors was
contradictory. Neither juror was chosen as an alternate.
The defendant argues that the judge abused his discretion
in finding the female juror to be impartial. Because "[t]he
determination of a juror's impartiality 'is essentially one of
credibility, and therefore largely one of demeanor,' . . . we
give a trial judge's determination of impartiality great
deference" (citations omitted). Commonwealth v. McCowen, 458
Mass. 461, 493 (2010). Accordingly, we review questions of
juror bias for "clear abuse of discretion or a showing that the
judge's findings were clearly erroneous." Commonwealth v.
Torres, 437 Mass. 460, 469 (2002), quoting Commonwealth v.
Amirault, 399 Mass. 617, 626 (1987), S.C., 404 Mass. 221 (1989).
Specifically, the defendant argues that the female juror
was intentionally dishonest and should have been excused. We
conclude that the judge did not abuse his discretion, as the
testimony of the two jurors was not necessarily contradictory.
Although the male juror testified that the two spoke, it is
possible that the female juror did not recall the conversation
because it was not concerning this case. Moreover, we cannot
say that the juror's statement that she did not know "who the
black male is with beige pants" was dishonest as even the court
officers first obtained the wrong juror based on that
description, and the individual had to correct them so that the
proper male juror was identified. Our review demonstrates that
the judge reasonably could have found the juror credible and,
therefore, did not abuse his discretion.
Outcome: We have examined the record pursuant to our duty under G. L. c. 278,
§ 33E, and we discern no basis on which to grant the defendant