BOSTON, May 10, 2013—The state’s highest court today affirmed a Roxbury woman’s conviction in the premeditated murder of her ex-boyfriend and another man, as well as the attempted murder a of third, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.
The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the convictions of TONEIKA BRITT (D.O.B. 9/25/76), who in 2009 was found guilty of two counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of her ex-boyfriend, 29-year-old Jesse Calhoun, and his friend, 20-year-old Robert Turner. Britt was also convicted of one count of armed assault with intent to murder for nonfatal injuries to a third victim and unlawful possession of a firearm.
The same court last year similarly upheld convictions against Britt’s co-defendant and boyfriend at the time of the murders, ALEXANDER BOLLING (D.O.B. 6/17/83) of Mattapan. At their joint trial, Bolling was convicted of first-degree murder in Calhoun’s death, second-degree murder in Turner’s death, armed assault with intent to murder in the surviving victim’s injuries, and unlawful possession of a firearm.
On Aug. 2, 2007, Britt – who was involved in a sometimes violent dispute with Calhoun over the proceeds of an insurance settlement – parked a borrowed car across the street from her Williams Street apartment. Moments later, the three victims pulled up in a different vehicle. Britt and Bolling, who was also in her vehicle, were both armed with handguns.
The evidence at trial proved that Britt and Bolling exited their vehicle, that Bolling shot Calhoun to death, and that Britt and Bolling both shot Turner and the surviving 27-year-old male repeatedly, killing Turner and almost killing the third victim.
Among the arguments in her appeal, Britt claimed that hearsay testimony from the surviving victim that Calhoun intended to “meet” the defendant should not have been allowed at trial.
In a decision written by Associate Justice Francis X. Spina, the high court unanimously rejected that argument, as it did not imply that Britt was aware of Calhoun’s intent to meet her or lead the jury to believe that the meeting was prearranged. Jurors were, however, able to infer from other evidence that both Calhoun and Britt arrived at the location for a prearranged meeting, the justices determined.
“To the extent the statement may have communicated information about the defendant’s state of mind, it was cumulative of other evidence that the defendant and Calhoun did, in fact, have a preplanned meeting outside the defendant’s apartment on the night of the shootings,” Spina wrote.
Specifically, Spina referenced the fact that the parties arrived within moments of each other, and that surveillance images showed Britt and Bolling waiting in their vehicle until Calhoun pulled up rather than proceeding directly to Britt’s apartment. She also made no effort to avoid her ex-boyfriend.
“Because there was an ample basis from which the jury could have inferred that a meeting had been prearranged, the admission of the statement did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice,” the justices ruled.
The judges also found no error in the trial judge’s instructions to the jury. Jurors were instructed on the elements of first-degree murder, including the elements of joint venture. It was under the theory of joint venture that Britt was convicted of knowingly and willingly participating in Calhoun’s murder even though she did not fire the bullet that took his life. The trial judge did not specifically state that prosecutors carried the burden of proving that Britt was aware that Bolling was carrying a .40 caliber handgun at the time she approached Calhoun with a .9 mm in her possession.
“[W]e conclude that the omission of an instruction on knowledge of a weapon as to deliberately premeditated murder on a joint venture theory did not create a substantial likelihood of a miscarriage of justice,” Spina wrote. “The jury necessarily found that the defendant knew that someone participating in the joint venture had a weapon, even if that weapon was in the defendant’s own possession.”
Catherine Rodriguez was the DA’s assigned victim-witness advocate. Assistant District Attorney Teresa Anderson of the DA’s Appellate Division argued the case on appeal. Assistant District Attorneys David Fredette and Julie Higgins tried the case in Suffolk Superior Court. Britt was represented on appeal by Joseph Hanofee.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.