Court orders new trial for man in prison for 1986 Cambridge stomping murder

A man who has been in prison for more than 25 years for a brutal East Cambridge murder deserves a new trial because DNA evidence not available at his original trial shows none of the victim's blood on the purple jacket he allegedly wore while stomping him and then dumping his body behind an abandoned supermarket in 1986, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled today.

The court's decision upholds a similar ruling by a Superior Court judge two years ago that Michael J. Sullivan deserves a new trial because of the DNA evidence. Sullivan was convicted of beating and kicking Wilfred McGrath in the apartment of one of Sullivan's pals, leaving a room with walls and floors covered in the victim's blood; he claims he was not there.

The SJC upheld the conviction in 1991, but said the new evidence cast enough doubt on the prosecution's case to warrant a new trial:

We acknowledge, as did the motion judge, that much of the evidence the Commonwealth presented against the defendant remains, and that the Commonwealth may have been able to carry its burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed murder in the first degree even without the evidence of the purple jacket. However, our inquiry is not whether the verdict may have been different, but whether the evidence in question probably served as a real factor in the jury's deliberations. ...

In light of this, we cannot ignore the fact that but for the purple jacket, the jury would not have been presented with any physical evidence connecting the defendant's person to the crime scene or the victim's blood. Without the purple jacket, the defendant could have argued at closing that not one piece of physical evidence linked the defendant directly to the killing of the victim. Combined with the testimony of defense witnesses, this fact may have been sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. At the very least, the evidence was probably a real factor in the jury's deliberations because it was one of the pieces of physical evidence that the prosecution pointed to more than once in closing as a basis on which to credit Grace's testimony over that of Petrla [Grace was also accused of the murder, but turned state's evidence].

Therefore, we conclude that the motion judge did not abuse her discretion in ruling that physical evidence arising from the purple jacket served as a "real factor" in the jury's deliberations such that the new test results cast real doubt on the justice of the defendant's conviction. The judgment granting the defendant's motion for a new trial is affirmed.

Shaw's, Star Market targeted by criminals seeking credit and debit card info

The parent company of Shaw's and Star Market announced today that somebody tried to access card information from customers between June 22 and July 17.

AB Acquisition has not determined that any cardholder data was in fact stolen, and currently it has no evidence of any misuse of any such data. ... AB Acquisition believes that the intrusion has been contained and is confident that its customers can safely use their credit and debit cards in its stores. ... Although it has not yet been determined whether any cardholder data was in fact stolen, and there is no evidence to date of any misuse of such data, AB Acquisition LLC is offering customers whose payment cards may have been affected 12 months of complimentary consumer identity protection services through AllClear ID.

The company says consumers can call AllClear at 1-855-865-4449 after 4 p.m. today or wait for additional information to show up on sometime over the next 24 hours.

Court makes it easier for people whose criminal cases have been dismissed to have their records sealed

The Supreme Judicial Court today set out new rules by which criminal defendants whose cases are dismissed or terminated can have their records sealed - with the goal of making it easier to do so if they can prove they're unable to get a job or housing because of those records.

The state's highest court issued the new guidelines in reaction to a Dorchester man's attempt to have evidence of his OUI arrest sealed after officials declined to continue the case against him. He said he was turned down by some 300 potential employers because of the case.

The court said recent research and efforts by the state Legislature both point to employment as a key factor in reducing recidivism rates - and to the recognition that a criminal record can make that difficult to achieve.

At the same time, the court said, it has to balance a desire to help people get and hold jobs with the public's right to access court records - a right that, in Massachusetts, pre-dates both the state and US constitutions.

The court concluded that letting defendants in a narrow set of circumstances - those whose cases were not brought forward or dismissed and who could show serious hardship if the records were not sealed - would not infringe on the constitutional right of the public to attend court sessions. It noted some court records - for example, in juvenile court - were already blocked from public view.

Even still, the court set out six steps by which judges should consider requests to seal records, including:

Judges evaluating a petition for sealing must recognize the interests of the defendant and of the Commonwealth in keeping the information private. These interests include the compelling governmental interests in reducing recidivism, facilitating reintegration, and ensuring self-sufficiency by promoting employment and housing opportunities for former criminal defendants. Where there is persuasive evidence that employers and housing authorities consider criminal history in making decisions, there is now a fully articulated governmental interest in shielding criminal history information from these decision makers where so doing would not cause adverse consequences to the community at large.

At a minimum, judges should evaluate the particular disadvantages identified by the defendant arising from the availability of the criminal record; evidence of rehabilitation suggesting that the defendant could overcome these disadvantages if the record were sealed; any other evidence that sealing would alleviate the identified disadvantages; relevant circumstances of the defendant at the time of the offense that suggest a likelihood of recidivism or of success; the passage of time since the offense and since the dismissal or nolle prosequi; and the nature of and reasons for the particular disposition.

Suspicious package shuts Airport station

Passengers allowed back in as cops got ready to leave. Photo by Mary C. Stevens.

A suspicious package at Airport on the Blue Line around 8:50 a.m. quickly brought the bomb squad and officers with high-powered weapons and dogs to the station.

Passengers were evacuated from the station and train service was halted.

Around 9:06 a.m., the package was declared not suspicious. A couple minutes later, riders were allowed back into the station and service resumed.

Kevin Franck photographed the scene on his way out:

Police with guns at Airport station

Truck vs. Storrow bridge: Bridge wins yet again

Penske must love Storrow Drive. Photo by Matt DeCastro. See it larger.

A truck driver got an introduction to the immutable nature of Storrow Drive bridges and overpasses tonight at Fiedler Footbridge eastbound and now there's debris everywhere, a truck with a newly storrowed roof peeled back like a can of sardines and a driver who probably wishes he were someplace else.