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Relatives at murder trial await verdict a fourth time

By David Abel
Globe Staff / June 11, 2009
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They have sat through three trials, for naught, each time having to listen again to the grisly details.

The relatives of Betsy Tripp spent yesterday on tenterhooks as a Suffolk Superior Court jury deliberated for the fifth day in the fourth trial of two men accused of entering her Dorchester apartment in 2004, slashing her throat, and shooting her boyfriend in the face, leaving him partially blind.

The long wait for justice has been excruciating for relatives of Tripp, a 49-year-old store manager who was later pronounced dead.

"Some things in life are worth fighting for," Christopher Gorton, Tripp's brother-in-law, said in a telephone interview as he awaited news of a verdict. "My prosecutor, when we met him, had no children. He just attended his son's preschool graduation. We've been at this a long, long time."

Soon after the crime, police arrested Quincy Butler, 35, and William Wood, 34, who have been behind bars for the past five years on murder charges.

The case has been presented to a jury three times since 2008, each time ending in a mistrial - twice because of deadlocked juries and once because the judge got sick. During the first trial last year, a single juror voted against conviction.

Gorton said he and his relatives have become used to waiting. The last jury was out six days, he said; the previous one deliberated for 11 days before telling the judge they couldn't issue a verdict.

"It's still grueling, still a grind, and it's very tough on us," Gorton said. "It's just been absolutely surreal."

Yesterday, they got a small window into the jury's thinking, but it wasn't clear what it meant.

Jurors sent a note to the judge asking whether they could convict one defendant of first-degree murder and the other of second-degree murder. They are accused of committing the crime together, and both are charged with first-degree murder, that is, with intentional, premeditated killing.

The judge told the jurors that, indeed, the men could be convicted of different degrees of murder. Second-degree murder is an intentional killing, but it is not premeditated.

Officials at the Suffolk district attorney's office declined to comment on the significance of the question.

"It would be inappropriate to comment on the case before a verdict is returned," said Jake Wark, a spokesman for the district attorney's office.

The lawyers representing Butler and Wood did not return calls.

Gorton said he did not want to try to read anything into the jury's question.

"We simply have no way of knowing what the context is for that," he said. "We just don't know what's going on in that jury room. We've been down this path too many times to get worked up about jury questions. I just want to hang on until they end."

Prosecutors charge that Butler and Wood held Tripp's boyfriend, Morris Thompson, 47, at gunpoint on the night of Feb. 12, 2004, and forced him to drive to the apartment he shared with Tripp. Wood used Tripp's ATM card to withdraw $40, prosecutors said, and then he attacked Tripp and shot Thompson, who pretended to be dead.

Jennifer Wilson, Tripp's niece, spent the day yesterday clutching her cellphone, waiting for a call.

"I probably have never been more exhausted and traumatized in my life," she said in a phone interview as she anxiously awaited the jury's verdict. "I'm coping because I have to."

She said she can't imagine how she will cope without a favorable verdict.

"I can't think of anything but a positive outcome," she said. "I'm just hoping.

"The only thing I want people to know is that we're doing this for Betsy, because we loved her and she loved us."

David Abel can be reached at dabel@globe.com.