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For second time, South Boston man's murder conviction overturned

Posted by Metro Desk  November 8, 2010 01:01 PM

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In 1999, a South Boston man and his younger brother were sentenced to life in prison after being convicted of fatally stabbing an acquaintance inside a South Boston bar. It seemed like the final chapter in the story of a violent crime, but that has hardly proven the case.

Five years later, a judge threw out the brothers' second-degree murder convictions after ruling that an unusual decision by their lawyers to wear microphones for a ``Frontline'' documentary at trial had deprived Joseph Downey and his younger brother, Daniel Downey, of a fair trial.

Today, Joseph Downey's conviction at his 2007 retrial was reversed after a state Appeals Court panel ruled the trial judge had violated Downey's Sixth Amendment right by excluding members of the public during jury selection.

``In sum, violation of the defendant's right to public trial occurred and the defendant is entitled to a new trial,'' the three-member panel ruled.

The Downey brothers were accused of the March 24, 1997, stabbing of James W. Murphy, 30, at Kelly's Cork N Bull in South Boston. Prosecutors said the stabbing was in retaliation for an argument that erupted between Murphy and Joseph Downey a week earlier at the St. Patrick's Day Parade in South Boston.

Joseph Downey's appellate lawyer, Kevin S. Nixon, of Boston, hailed the ruling as the latest in a recent series of federal and state court holdings that judges must allow the public to witness trials gavel to gavel, including during jury selection.

Many judges in Massachusetts through the years, Nixon said, have routinely excluded spectators during jury selection for reasons ranging from lack of space in cramped courtrooms to the sensitive nature of questioned posed to prospective jurors. But the Sixth Amendment prohibits that.

``It supports the credibility of the process, if every aspect of a trial is open to the public,'' Nixon said.

A spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, said prosecutors are reviewing the ruling to decide whether to appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court.

``If not, then we're prepared to try the case a third time, if necessary,'' said the spokesman, Jake Wark.

Daniel Downey pleaded guilty before the second trial to manslaughter and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Although he was granted a new trial today, Joseph Downey remains at MCI-Norfolk as defense and prosecution map out the next step in the convoluted case.

Originally published on the blog MetroDesk.

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