Saturday, 2:15 PM
By Franci R. Ellement, Globe Correspondent, and John R. Ellement and Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
WOBURN -- A jury took less than two days to convict Neil Entwistle of murdering his wife and infant daughter, rejecting the defense's theory that the young mother shot her 9-month-old before committing suicide.
Rachel Entwistle, 27, and Lillian Rose
The jury of six women and six men deliberated 11 hours before finding Entwistle guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and two firearms charges. Entwistle stood stoically and as the verdict was read his mouth fell open, he pressed his eyes shut, and he shook his head slightly from side to side.
"A just verdict has been returned and Neil Entwistle will spend the rest of his life in jail, which is where he belongs," Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said at a news conference this afternoon.
Leone said Lillian Rose, the slain baby, "should be here walking, talking and playing with her mom Rachel doting over her. ... But we all now know that's not going to happen because of the reprehensible acts of Neil Entwistle."
Entwistle will be formally sentenced Thursday at 10 a.m. First-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole and requires an automatic review by the Supreme Judicial Court.
Entwistle's parents lashed out after the conviction, saying that Rachel Entwistle had "murdered" their granddaughter.
"We know that our son, Neil, is innocent, and we are devastated to learn that the evidence points to Rachel murdering our grandchild and then committing suicide," his mother, Yvonne Entwistle, told reporters outside the courthouse. "I knew Rachel was depressed. Our son will now go to jail for loving, honoring, and protecting his wife’s memory."
The verdict in Middlesex Superior Court came after a 12-day trial in which the prosecution meticulously relied on testimony from more than 30 witnesses. It culminated with the recordings of two phone conversations Entwistle had with Massachusetts State Police shortly after the crime. The two hours and 45 minutes of audio allowed the jury to hear the tone of the Briton's voice as he tried to explain why he fled to England without alerting authorities, leaving his slain wife and child in their Hopkinton home.
The defense did not call a single witness to testify and instead tried to exploit what it called missteps by police and pick apart the prosecution's case, which was built largely on circumstantial evidence.
"We disagree with the result the jury reached. We disagree with their view of the evidence," Elliot Weinstein, the lead defense attorney, said after the verdict.
"Under a different environment," a jury would have reached a different result, said Weinstein, who had pushed hard to move the trial out of Middlesex County. The defense attorney said "very significant issues of constitutional law" would be presented on appeal and he was confident that the case "will meet a successful review in the Supreme Court."
During the news conference held by prosecutors and Rachel Entwistle's family, Leone praised the work of investigators and prosecutors, saying they were "a focused and determined team that did not get distracted during the course of this trial."
Joe Flaherty, an attorney representing Rachel Entwistle's family, said, "We may never know why this happened, but we do know that Rachel and Lillian Rose loved and trusted Neil Entwistle. Neil Entwistle's actions on Jan. 20, 2006 betrayed that love and trust. Neil Entwistle will now live with his evil deeds for the rest of his natural life, only to be judged again."
The jury's decision ended a sensational case that has drawn international attention since the bodies of Rachel, 27, and Lillian Rose were discovered in their Hopkinton home on Jan. 22, 2006. Shortly after the crime, the smiling faces of the young family were splashed on the cover of People magazine under the headline: "Who killed Rachel and her baby?"
Weinstein had criticized the Hopkinton police officers who first responded to Entwistle's rented Colonial-style home because they used a plastic Blockbuster video card to pick the lock and enter without a search warrant. The officers were performing a well-being check after the family went missing and did not notice the bodies tucked beneath a fluffy white comforter in the master bedroom. Rachel and Lillian Rose would not be discovered until the next day, when police searched the home a second time.
The defense tried to show a pattern of shoddy police work in an investigation that it said contorted facts and ignored other possibilities to pin the crime on Neil Entwistle. During closing arguments, Weinstein offered a controversial new assertion built on a suggestion earlier in the trial that Rachel Entwistle killed her daughter and then committed suicide. He told the jury that Entwistle returned the gun to his in-laws' home and did not report finding the bodies because he did not want to tarnish the memory of his wife. It was the first time that Neil Entwistle had acknowledged that he saw the gun on the bed and admitted returning the weapon to his father-in-law's house in Carver.
"Neil found Rachel and Lillian dead," Weinstein said in his closing argument on Monday. "Neil saw the .22 and knew instantly what had happened, and in those moments he knew what he had to do and what he couldn't do. He had to get the .22 back to Carver, and he couldn't call the police because he couldn't tell them what Rachel did. He wouldn't tell them because he wouldn't tarnish Rachel's memory."
"Was he thinking rationally, clearly or correctly? Of course not. How could he?" Weintstein said. "Neil drove to Carver and returned the .22."
Distraught and devastated, Entwistle flew back home to seek the comfort of his parents in England without calling 911 or notifying police of the bodies because "human emotions are unpredictable" and can cause people to act irrationally, Weinstein said.
The jurors rejected the defense's version of events. They sided unanimously with the prosecution, which painted Entwistle as a broke, out-of-work computer engineer who was so obsessed with sex he was carrying an advertisement for female escorts when he was arrested in London on Feb. 9, 2006.
During closing arguments, prosecutor Michael Fabbri blasted the defense assertion that the double homicide was a murder-suicide, saying it "makes no sense."
"Why would Rachel commit suicide?" Fabbri asked the jury. "Is there any evidence before you that suggests she had the desire or intent to commit suicide? She was back home. She had her family and . . . what she thought was a loving husband. She was happy. She had no reason to commit suicide."
Fabbri said that Entwistle was probably "projecting his own status onto Rachel," because he had no friends here, no family, "and was failing to provide for his family." The couple had moved from Entwistle's native England to live closer to Rachel's mother after Lillian was born.
"He got to the tipping point, his own tipping point," and killed his family, Fabbri said.
Rachel could never have shot her baby, suffered that pain, and then fired the fatal shot into the top of her own head, just above the hairline, Fabbri said. He reminded the jury that they heard Entwistle's own voice on a recorded phone call telling police he saw bubbles of blood on Lillian Rose's mouth.
At the news conference, Fabbri said that investigators had considered other possibilities but the evidence ultimately had pointed at Neil Entwistle.
"In the end, we follow the evidence ... and this evidence ended up in one place," he said.