Judge Finds Defense Lawyer Had Conflict of Interest; Integrity of Verdict Not at Issue
BOSTON, Feb. 12, 2016—Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley has filed a notice of appeal after a judge granted a motion for a new trial by the man who murdered 10-year-old Trina Persad with a shotgun blast to the face, finding that one of the killer’s attorneys had a conflict of interest at the time of the 2009 trial that ended with his conviction.
“We disagree in the strongest possible terms with this decision,” Conley said. “We will argue that its legal and factual foundations are so flawed as to warrant reversal.”
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet Sanders found that an attorney for JOSEPH COUSIN (D.O.B. 8/9/84) had performed prior legal work for other clients that presented a 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.
“Flawed as this ruling is, it’s primarily an interpretation of case law on conflict of interest,” Conley noted. “It does not question the integrity of the jury’s verdict or the sufficiency of the evidence. The fact remains that Joseph Cousin armed himself with a loaded shotgun, pointed it out the window of a stolen car, and pulled the trigger, killing a 10-year-old girl in a playground named for another murdered child.”
Civilian witnesses – including fellow gang members, rivals, and individuals completely unrelated to the victim or defendant – testified that Cousin fired a shotgun from the passenger’s side of a stolen Honda Civic, sending pellets through Persad’s face and skull and into her brain, causing fatal injuries. That testimony was corroborated by Cousin’s fingerprints in two locations on the passenger’s side of the vehicle and a spent shotgun shell consistent with the murder weapon inside the car when it was recovered. Cousin was arrested next to the stolen car about 15 minutes after the shooting by a Boston Police officer unaware of the gunfire at Goffigan Park.
Prosecutors received the decision yesterday. The victim-witness advocate assigned to the case since Persad’s murder made contact with the slain girl’s mother late yesterday afternoon to inform her of the development and prosecutors’ intention to defend the conviction vigorously before the Massachusetts Appeals Court.
“The idea that a prominent member of the defense bar would pull punches in the most high-profile murder trial in years isn’t just misguided,” Conley said. “It can be refuted by anyone who watched the proceedings.”
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.
Nonetheless, Sanders found that White’s civil representation of a homicide detective facing a lawsuit in connection with the 1997 case represented a 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.
“The record makes clear that Attorney White’s involvement in those civil proceedings had effectively ended by the time of the Cousin trial,” Conley said. “Moreover, it shows that he never held back in defense of his client. Like his predecessor counsel, he attacked the police investigation aggressively. That he secured a second-degree murder verdict where prosecutors argued so effectively for a first-degree conviction shows his effectiveness as a zealous advocate.”
The case will return to Suffolk Superior Court on Feb. 18.
All defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.