The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today it was not going to hear Raymond White's appeal of his conviction on two first-degree murder convictions for the 1971 deaths of two security guards at a Columbia Road supermarket - at least not yet.
The court ruled that if White does want to press his case that errors were made in his prosecution and conviction, he first needs to seek a new trial in Suffolk Superior Court.
White and another man, James Hall, were convicted in 1975 on charges they gunned down two Brinks security guards at Freedom Foods - Boston's first black-owned supermarket - at 264 Columbia Rd., where the Lila G. Frederick Pilot Middle School now stands.
The two were also convicted of stealing the nearly $30,000 in cash the two guards - Harry T. Jeffreys and Calvin Thorn - were delivering to the store. Police said they quickly tracked the two suspects, the money, the gun, the ammo and a lot of blood to White's sister's apartment down Columbia Road, where Hall lay bleeding.
Freedom Foods had opened in a former Purity Supreme in 1968. It closed at that location in 1972 due to financial problems - at least some caused by the loss of a large number of customers when the city tore down scores of nearby homes and apartments in an urban-renewal push.
White, a Roxbury resident and 22 at the time of the murders, has been appealing his conviction on and off for decades - although presumably not during a brief escape from the Walpole state prison in 1980. In 1976, when Massachusetts still had a death penalty on the books, the Supreme Judicial Court ordered his verdict changed from death to life imprisonment without parole, as part of its routine review of all first-degree murder sentences.
This came two years after the court agreed to let him file an appeal of his verdict, based on alleged errors at his trial, including the judge's refusal to question prospective jurors on their knowledge of Allah, but he didn't follow through with that - until 1994, the court rejected his request to let him file another appeal.
White appealed again in 2014 and this time - in 2016 - an SJC justice agreed to let him formally appeal to the court.
In its ruling today, however, the entire court rejected that.
The better course in these circumstances is for White to proceed in the first instance by a motion for a new trial in the trial court. This approach has several advantages over a reinstated direct appeal in the first instance. First, it will allow for a full development of the factual record as to any claims that White wishes to pursue, including his claim that the loss of his right to an appeal was due to the ineffective assistance of counsel. Second, it will permit the trial court judge to make a definitive ruling on the ineffectiveness claim. Third, it will permit the parties and the judge to hone legal issues that are now more than forty-five years old. Finally, it will permit the parties to litigate in the trial court in the first instance the questions that may arise as to what law will apply where the relevant law may have changed since the time of White's convictions.
Requiring White to proceed in this fashion, rather than simply reinstating his direct appeal, will not violate his rights or prejudice him in any way provided we impose certain protections for his benefit. First, assuming the trial court judge determines that the lost direct appeal was in fact a consequence of ineffective assistance of counsel -- and not a choice by White -- White must be permitted to raise all claims that he could have raised in a direct appeal, and the judge will be required to consider each of his claims on the substantive merits, just as we would have done in a direct appeal pursuant to G. L. c. 278, § 33E. Second, if the motion for a new trial is denied, White must have an unfettered right to appeal from that ruling ...