BOSTON, Feb. 12, 2013—The state’s highest court today affirmed the 2008 murder conviction of a man who stabbed his ex-girlfriend’s new companion in the heart during a fight, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.
HASSAUN HARRIS, (D.O.B. 7/6/74) was convicted of first-degree murder in the 2006 stabbing death of 28-year-old Jeff Igbineweka of Roslindale during a fight at a Cleary Square D’Angelo’s. The Supreme Judicial Court today upheld that conviction.
During the course of his trial, Harris claimed he killed Igbineweka in self-defense during a fight after Harris approached his ex-girlfriend and the victim inside the restaurant.
On appeal, Harris claimed that the trial judge wrongly instructed jurors that “A person who provokes or initiates an assault ordinarily cannot claim the right of self-defense unless he withdraws in good faith from the conflict and announces his intention to retire.” Harris argued that this instruction relieved prosecutors of the burden of proving that the defendant did not act in self-defense by conveying to jurors that a person cannot claim self-defense if they instigated a fight by words alone and not by violence or the threat thereof.
However, in a decision written by Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland, the high court found that in her instructions to the jury, the trial judge three times stated that the Commonwealth bears the burden of proving that the defendant did not act in self-defense when he killed Igbineweka. Though Harris made a derogatory statement to the victim, the justices stated in their decision that the evidence did not suggest that Harris’ words alone provoked the physical altercation.
The justices further ruled that a 911 call in which Igbineweka is heard stating three times, “I’ve been stabbed,” was properly admitted into evidence, despite Harris’ argument it was not relevant to the trial and improperly evoked sympathy from jurors. Harris did not deny that he stabbed the victim but testified at trial that he did not remember doing so, that no witnesses saw a weapon, and that the exit wound was not visible to the medical examiner because first responders cut through the wound during a procedure performed in hopes of saving Igbineweka’s life.
“Thus,” Ireland wrote, “the recording bore on the fact that the victim’s deadly injury derived from a stabbing. The judge did not commit palpable error in admitting the recording.”
The court also found that the recording was properly used again by prosecutors in closing arguments.
“As has been stated, the recording properly had been admitted in evidence, and the jurors were free to listen to it during their deliberations as a trial exhibit,” the high court wrote. “Playing the recording itself did not misrepresent the evidence. To the extent that the content of the recording was upsetting or inflammatory, that was inherent in the nature of the act (a stabbing) committed …. In the circumstances, we conclude that it was not improper for the prosecutor to play the recording for the jury during his closing argument and that in so doing the prosecutor did not improperly appeal to jury sympathy.”
Assistant District Attorney Donna Patalano of the DA’s Appellate Division argued the case on appeal. Assistant District Attorney Ian Polumbaum prosecuted the case at trial. Harris was represented on appeal by Leslie W. O’Brien.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.