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Court dismisses Mattapan murder conviction; says judge should have followed her initial instinct and tossed the case for lack of evidence before it went to the jury

The Supreme Judicial Court today overturned Abdullah Yasin's conviction for second-degree murder for Chaz Burton's 2016 death outside a Mattapan party, saying the trial judge in the case should not have allowed the case to go to a jury after she concluded Suffolk County prosecutors had failed to produce evidence that showed Yassin was responsible for Burton's death.

In its decision, the state's highest court said Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders managed to make decisions that harmed both Burton's case and the prosecution's case, but that because Burton's constitutional right to due process was harmed, it was ruling for him and dismissing his case.

A Suffolk Superior Court jury had convicted Yasin of second-degree murder for Burton's stomping and shooting murder early on March, 2016 outside 227 River St. A co-defendant was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Both men had been charged with first-degree murder for Burton's death in a fight involving two groups.

After prosecutors concluded making their case to the jury in March, 2018, Yasin's attorney filed a motion asking the judge to issue a "required finding of not guilty." In a hearing on the motion, the SJC writes in its summary of the case, Sanders agreed prosecutors had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Yasin caused Burton's death:

[T]he judge observed that murder premised on a theory of extreme atrocity or cruelty was "totally unsupported" by the evidence. In addition, she noted that there was no evidence as to the identity of the shooter or the circumstances under which the shooter had acted. The judge summarized the Commonwealth's case as, "some unknown person came down in the middle of [a] melee and shot [the victim] as he was apparently waving a knife" at others, after having stabbed "at least" two people. Based on the evidence of the victim's conduct, the judge said that "there [was] certainly evidence raised of self-defense, [and] defense of others, enough so that the Commonwealth then [had] to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the perpetrator was not acting in self-defense" or in defense of others. The judge also said that the Commonwealth had failed to present any such evidence and thus that the Commonwealth had not proved that the killing was unlawful. She noted, as well, that the Commonwealth had presented no evidence that the defendant had aided or abetted the shooter. For all practical purposes, the judge thus deemed the evidence insufficient to convict the defendant of murder.

But despite her misgivings, Sanders then decided to take no action on the case, saying she reserved that right until after the jury made its decision. She similarly "reserved" any action after Yasin's lawyer repeated the request after the close of Yasin's case - in which Yasin was not called, because his attorney felt the case was so weak. But the jury found Yasin guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of life, with the possibility of parole after at least 15 years.

Yasin's attorney then filed a similar motion to dismiss the case, and this time Sanders agreed, issuing a nunc pro tunc ruling (from the Latin for "now for then," essentially, to overturn an earlier ruling) overturning the murder charge (Yasin was also convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon; he did not appeal his 2 1/2-year sentence for that).

In a hearing on the post-verdict motion, Sanders told both sides that she figured the jury would conclude, as she had, that prosecutors had failed to make their case and that jurors would find Yasin not guilty, because her experience had taught her that "juries are able to recognize when a case is founded on speculation or conjecture, and they will return a of not guilty, thus making it unnecessary for me to intervene." Also, "no rational jury following the instructions I gave them could have concluded that there was an unlawful killing.”

She added that had she granted the motion to dismiss before the jury ruled, that would legally let the DA appeal her decision to appellate courts and "then the time and expense invested in selecting a jury and presenting evidence at trial would be wasted."

She then granted Yasin's motion, in part because "the verdict was based on emotion rather than reason and therefore was not consonant with justice."

The DA's office then appealed.

In its ruling, the justices concluded that the way Sanders did not act on Yasin's motion until after the trial was a violation of his rights, but that the judge's decision to essentially overturn the verdict was also wrong:

When the judge reserved decision on the defendant's motion for a directed verdict at the close of the Commonwealth's case, she deprived the defendant of his right to insist that the Commonwealth prove each element of murder beyond a reasonable doubt before he decided whether to rest or to present a defense. Such prejudice is manifest where, as here, the judge indicates at the time of the reservation that she strongly favors allowing the motion. Immediately prior to reserving a decision, the judge observed that the Commonwealth had presented no evidence to identify the killer or the circumstances under which the shooter acted, or to show that the killing was unlawful, given evidence that the shooter may have acted in self-defense or in defense of others. In addition, the judge noted that murder predicated on extreme atrocity or cruelty was "totally unsupported" by the evidence. In effect, the judge told the parties that the Commonwealth had presented insufficient evidence to convict the defendant of murder. After the judge made these statements, however, the trial proceeded, and the defendant was put to the choice of deciding whether to rest or to present a defense.

Writing for the United States Supreme Court in Smith v. Massachusetts, 543 U.S. 462, 471-472 (2005), Justice Antonin Scalia explained that "when, as here, the trial has proceeded to the defendant's presentation of his case, the possibility of prejudice arises." A "false assurance of acquittal on one count may induce the defendant to present defenses to the remaining counts that are inadvisable." Id. at 472. "The seeming dismissal" of an indictment "may induce a defendant to present a defense to the undismissed charge[] when he would be better advised to stand silent." Id. See Cote, 15 Mass. App. Ct. at 240.

The justices added:

Because the defendant's motion under rule 25 (a) [of state trial rules] was filed at the close of the Commonwealth's case, the judge was required to rule on it "at that time."

And that hurt prosecution, because nunc pro tunc rulings are supposed to apply just to such things as clerical errors in the court record, not to fundamental issues of guilt or innocence.

But, given the seriousness of the violation of Yasin's rights, the court added, it was ruling for him and reversing the verdict. Prosecutors, it continued, had no right to appeal the judge's decision, but just in this case, the court said.

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Comments

Because of political donations she made to someone? Or for her judicial abilities?
I bet I know.

Stanford U., Harvard Law. Federal clerkships, 6 years civil litigation, 5 years criminal defense. 13 years various judicial appointments.

But don't keep us in suspense! Why do you think she was appointed?

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A home in some extremely safe, extremely expensive, extremely white suburb where she doesn’t have to face the consequences of letting murderous gangbangers out of jail.

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She didn't let anyone out of jail. The SJC dismissed the case but said the judge should have dismissed the case due to lack of evidence.

I'm curious. Did you actually read the article before posting your comment?

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You have never been arrested and tried for something you didn't do.
You also failed civics.

"Innocent until PROVEN guilty" means something. It means that if you can't PROVE guilt, you don't take a case to trial.

You just want kangaroo courts and summary executions for your feels.

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Always bleed from a safe distance, where the chances of running into one of those “theoretically innocent” fine fellas are about as high as running into a great white down in Key West.

But please do tell about that cousin’s cousin of yours who lived in perfectly safe Mattaroxchester, where every single violent criminal let out by an idiot activist judge immediately turns into a model citizen and opens up a kitten sanctuary.

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To have an understanding of the Constitutions rights to due process before one makes a fool of oneself.

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it agreed with the judge that the prosecution failed to make its case and that it was not going to let somebody who might be innocent rot in prison for possibly the rest of his life. If you object to the way the judicial system handled the case, please explain why you feel the Fifth and Fifteenth Amendments are no longer in force in Massachusetts. Feel free to explain in a footnote or something why you think assistant district attorneys under Tough Guy Dan Conley were unable to make their case.

For what it's worth, five of the seven justices on the SJC were appointed by the current Republican governor. All seven signed off on today's decision.

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As it says in the ruling, no one knows who had the gun and thus fired the fatal shot.

The man you think is out on the street is not appealing is 2.5 year sentence for assault and battery.

So... he will in fact spend time in prison.

But sure, we should throw people in prison for life when there is not sufficient evidence to support the charge.

You have supposedly been here for 4 hours and you know exactly ... what, again?

You clearly do not know my absolute redneck bonafides - or anything else about any sort of "safe distance" from anything. Hint: I can probably out-poverty your childhood on just about any measure. I have also seen family hauled off because the cops wanted to "solve" a crime and grabbed someone who was innocent.

Even if you are released, being put through the court mess is at the very least harassment.

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She’s ill tempered, arrogant and not nearly as smart as she likes to think she is. This rebuke from the SJC is an embarrassment and one can only hope she will learn from it. She has an important job and the people who appear in front of her every day deserve reasoned and thorough jurisprudence. Not someone who does exactly what the SCOTUS prohibits.

Not one of the better features of the site.

And you're shooting off your mouth with imagined accusations, and not being a good American citizen in that regard.

So who was responsible?

And the NRA, of course, who else?

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Didn't make their case, or had the wrong guy. Whichever, it's on them that a murderer is still on the street.

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accused, or someone they know wrongly accused. Which is basically everyone.

In a hearing on the post-verdict motion, Sanders told both sides that she figured the jury would conclude, as she had, that prosecutors had failed to make their case and that jurors would find Yasin not guilty, because her experience had taught her that "juries are able to recognize when a case is founded on speculation or conjecture, and they will return a of not guilty, thus making it unnecessary for me to intervene." Also, "no rational jury following the instructions I gave them could have concluded that there was an unlawful killing.”

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Did nothing on 1st motion for directed verdict, did nothing on 2nd motion for directed verdict, did nothing on motion for judgment notwithstanding verdict.

Bat never left her shoulders . .

And in the long run, rulings like this help everyone and make it a fairer system.

Real interesting stuff listening to District Attorneys talk about juries and who they want on them in which cases. I haven't been to a lot of sexual assault or rape trials, but DA's always talk about how they don't want any women on those juries because they put themselves in the vicitm's shoes and try to justify how the assault wasn't an actual assault because of their own personal history.

Anyway, the jury system isn't perfect, and rulings like this make it a little better for everyone.

"Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders managed to make decisions that harmed both Burton's case and the prosecution's case"

I don't think the victim had a case, should be Yasin instead of Burton twice in that paragraph.