Man gets to rot in prison for brutal robbery that left one dead; DA cautioned on press releases

The Supreme Judicial Court today upheld the first-degree murder conviction of William Wood for a robbery in which he and a pal fatally slit a woman's throat and shot her boyfriend in the eye.

Barring a federal appeal, the ruling means Wood will spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The state's highest court said Wood got a fair trial and rejected his plea to have the conviction overturned because the judge wouldn't let him introduce evidence he felt might help make the case that the man who was shot in the eye was actually the killer:

The judge concluded, and we agree, that it strains credulity, and is entirely speculative, that Thompson slit Tripp's throat, shot himself, survived, discarded a firearm, and fabricated a story implicating the defendant and Butler while suffering from a painful and blinding wound that, according to the responding officers, appeared to be "fatal."

At the same time, the court said prosecutors got really lucky that jurors didn't see a press release from the Suffolk County District Attorney's office, issued after arguments had ended, but before the jury began deliberations, that had "prejudicial" information about the two suspects' three earlier trials and how close they had come to being convicted in two of them:

We conclude that the Commonwealth's actions were egregious. While the jurors were likely aware that there had been previous trials, due to the amount of time that had passed since the murder and the innumerable references to prior proceedings, the press release contained vote counts that showed that two prior juries strongly favored conviction. It also presented the facts of the case in sensationalized terms that exclusively favored the Commonwealth's theory of the case. Had the press release been seen by any of the jurors, it easily could have caused a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice by informing them that twenty-one of the twenty-four jurors who had previously heard the evidence believed the defendant and Butler to be guilty. ...

Here, the judge conducted a thorough voir dire and determined that only three jurors had seen the article [a Metro story based on the press release]. Of those jurors, only one took part in deliberations, and she had read only the headline, which contained no potentially prejudicial information. We cannot say that the judge abused his discretion in determining that the jurors had not been "contaminated by extraneous information."

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    Where are all the comments about cowardice, justice being served, their animals etc?