High Court Vacates Judge’s Order for New Trial in Murder of Trina Persad

SJC Finds Conflict of Interest Claim “Unsupported By the Record”

BOSTON, Jan. 11, 2018—The state’s highest court today vacated a judge’s 2016 order granting a new trial to the man who murdered 10-year-old Trina Persad with a shotgun blast to the face, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.

In a 38-page decision, the Supreme Judicial Court vacated Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders’ finding that an attorney for JOSEPH COUSIN (D.O.B. 8/9/84) had performed prior legal work for other clients that presented an actual conflict of interest at the time Cousin, a member of the notorious Magnolia-Intervale-Columbia gang, was convicted of killing Persad during a June 29, 2002, mission to retaliate against rivals at Jermaine Goffigan Park.

The SJC remanded the case back to Suffolk Superior Court for findings on whether Cousin’s attorney had a potential conflict causing prejudice and warranting a new trial. Prosecutors will argue against that finding.

“The SJC made the right call,” Conley said. “The decision to grant a new trial in this case was legally and factually flawed.  As we argued from the start, there was no support in the record for a claim of actual conflict.  Anyone present for the trial could see the defendant had the benefit of an experienced, effective, and zealous advocate in attorney Bill White.”

Cousin was tried twice for Persad’s murder. The first trial, in 2004, ended in a mistrial after the judge dismissed several jurors who had lied on questionnaires asking about their prior criminal history. The Supreme Judicial Court later found that the inquiry revealing those lies was proper and “fits squarely within the ‘criminal justice duties’ of prosecutors.”

Cousin’s attorney for those proceedings, Willie Davis, later withdrew from the case and a new attorney, William White, was appointed for the retrial, which was held in 2009. Among thousands of clients over the course of his career, White had also represented a former Boston Police homicide detective in a federal lawsuit stemming from a 1997 murder investigation. That detective was no longer assigned to the Homicide Unit when Persad was killed and was wholly uninvolved in the investigation into her death.

Cousin’s motion claimed that White’s civil representation of a homicide detective facing a lawsuit in federal court in connection with the 1997 case represented an actual conflict of interest in his criminal representation of a homicide suspect in 2009. Prosecutors countered that there was no overlap between the two cases and that White had not appeared or filed a single document in the civil case since well before Cousin went to trial.

Writing for the unanimous court, Associate Justice David Lowy distinguished “the facial repugnance of an attorney’s divided loyalty, which places an unmistakable stain on the attorney-client relationship,” from the “discretely compartmentalized aspects of unrelated cases” cited in Cousin’s motion. “Significantly, Cousin relies on speculation and conjecture to support his allegation that White was constrained from vigorously defending him,” the high court noted.

Assistant District Attorney Amanda Teo argued the case on appeal. ADA David Bradley assisted on the Superior Court evidentiary hearing. Former Assistant District Attorney Josh Wall prosecuted the case at trial. Michael Coffey was the DA’s assigned victim-witness advocate. The case returns to court on Feb. 27.




All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.