Prosecutors Drop 1981 Murder Case after Review by DA’s Conviction Integrity Program

BOSTON, Aug. 8, 2017—Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office today agreed to vacate the 1981 conviction of FREDERICK CLAY for the first-degree murder of Jeffrey Boyajian and immediately filed additional paperwork ending any further prosecution in the 28-year-old cab driver’s murder in Roslindale.

“Upon review of the evidence, including that advanced by the defendant in his motion and that gathered by the Commonwealth after receiving the motion, and after extensive investigation and scrutiny by this office’s Conviction Integrity Program, the Commonwealth has concluded that the interests of justice would not be served by the prosecution of this case,” Conley’s office wrote in the nolle prosequi, filed at a hearing on a defense motion for new trial to which prosecutors assented.

Jeffrey Boyajian (undated family photo)

Jeffrey Boyajian (undated family photo)

Conley’s assent to Clay’s 2016 motion and decision to end all proceedings against him followed a detailed examination of the evidence at trial, which included identifications by two witnesses – one a cab driver who was hypnotized after viewing three men entering Boyajian’s cab in Boston’s Combat Zone in the early morning hours of Nov. 16, 1979, and the other a developmentally-disabled young man whose apartment overlooked the spot where Boyajian was shot five times in the head during a robbery. Investigators attempted to hypnotize this witness as well, though they believed this attempt was unsuccessful.

The results of the re-investigation into Clay’s role in the murder – which entailed post-conviction DNA testing of evidence still in law enforcement custody and the delivery of some 200 pages of documentation sought by his post-conviction counsel – did not offer conclusive proof of his innocence, Conley said, but they raised significant doubt as to the fairness of his trial and the justice of his conviction.

In 2004, Conley implemented a sweeping set of reforms to the way eyewitness evidence was gathered and used after empaneling a blue-ribbon panel of experts including the leading academic expert on eyewitness identification and prominent members of the defense bar. Professor Gary Wells said the procedural improvements represented “the gold standard” and Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project said they put Boston and Suffolk County “at the forefront of the country.”

Conley said that he had additional concerns given the use of hypnosis to enhance witnesses’ recollections – a practice largely discredited in the modern age – and that prosecutors could not refute a second prong of Clay’s motion, which alleged that his trial and appellate attorney was ineffective for failing to challenge one of the identifications more aggressively or pursue a plausible third-party culprit defense that might have bolstered his defense of mistaken identity.

The re-investigation by Conley’s Conviction Integrity Program brought senior prosecutors from various disciplines together to scrutinize the evidence introduced at trial, evaluate the results of modern forensic testing and other evidence gathered during the post-conviction proceedings, and direct detectives assigned to the Boston Police Homicide Unit’s Cold Case Squad to re-interview witnesses. As a matter of practice to prevent cognitive biases from affecting the result, no prosecutor or detective involved in the underlying case takes part in the Conviction Integrity Program’s re-investigation.

 “As a prosecutor, my duty is to justice, not a conviction,” Conley said. “Given what we know today, that duty was best fulfilled by affirmatively ending any further proceedings against Mr. Clay.”

Also present at today’s hearing were Boyajian’s young brother and Boyajian’s sister-in-law, whom Conley briefed on his decision in advance. Both supported the DA’s decision and notified Judge Christine Roach that they were in favor of the disposition.

Assistant District Attorney Donna Jalbert Patalano Clay was the lead prosecutor on the case. Katherine Moran was the DA’s assigned victim-witness advocate. Clay was represented by attorneys Lisa Kavanaugh and Jeffrey Harris.

 

–30–

 

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