Murder In Massachusetts: Entwistle Post #5: Defense Doing Its Job, But Doing Itself No Favors

Today’s testimony from Medical Examiner William Zane was graphic and disturbing. His testimony laid out in pathological, medical detail how both Rachel Entwistle and her baby, Lillian, died. What made the testimony difficult to absorb, apart from the fact that two innocent lives were stolen, was how calculated the murders were, and how physically close the murderer must have been to Rachel and the baby when the shots were fired. Lillian was shot through the abdomen, the bullet piercing her liver and kidney, fracturing a dorsal rib before it exited her back. Once exiting, it penetrated Rachel’s left breast, where it lodged. While the bullet wound was fatal to Lillian, the wound to Rachel’s breast tissue was not at all fatal.

Instead, what killed Rachel was a bullet wound entering just behind her forehead hairline, penetrating almost straight down into her brain, being fired from a point above her head. The bullet shattered and fragments lodged in her brain, not exiting the skull. However, the entry wound was so inconspicuous, that it was not discovered until autopsy. (This was due to the small (.22) caliber of the bullet.) The angle of the bullet entry wound to Rachel’s head, made clear in Dr. Zane’s mind that her death was not the result of anything but a homicide. Notwithstanding, Entwistle’s defense team has to come up with something here to counter this devastating testimony. They know they have little to no hope of pinning this crime on Joseph Matterazzo, Rachel’s stepfather and the owner of the murder weapon, not only because of a lack of any motive, but a lack of any opportunity: Several independent witnesses have corroborated Matterazzo’s physical whereabouts for almost every minute of the day of the murders – and he was nowhere near 6 Cubs Path in Hopkinton. The defense has neither yet identified any other possible suspect, who would have had either the means, motive or opportunity to commit these murders
That leaves the defense with essentially only one other option if they wish to have even the slightest hope of raising reasonable doubt in the minds of this jury: Suggest that Rachel murdered her own baby, then committed suicide. That’s exactly what defense attorney Stephanie Page did today, littering Dr. Zane with questions designed to bring out that he “knew nothing” about Rachel Entwistle’s personal life, and suggesting that she may have been depressed after leaving her friends in England, and, quoting from suicide studies, coaxing agreement from him that, statistically, many women commit suicide by gun. Notwithstanding the litany of suggestions she advanced on cross-examination, this medical examiner would not yield in his medical opinion: These deaths were the result of a homicide, not suicide. Seemingly, it was the only road the defense could go down, but it was low. In the process of this line of cross-examination, it unavoidably demeaned the reputation of this deceased woman, and further deepened the tragedy surrounding this crime. Surely, several members of the jury felt this notion, and as a defense attorney, I cannot imagine that it helped their case.

I would most certainly not have wanted to be the one advancing this theory, and this line of questioning. I am not saying it was unprofessional, simply that it was unavoidably unseemly, and I cannot imagine anyone in that courtroom, other than Neil Entwistle, appreciating it. I can only imagine the conversation that must have taken place between Elliot Weinstein and Stephanie Page, over planning for who between the two of them was going to get up and advance this line of questioning. I doubt it was very pleasant, and I’m 99% sure that it was Ms. Page who was ultimately awarded the role, due to the fact that she is a woman, and might be perceived by the jury with a greater degree of receptiveness than Mr. Weinstein, in suggesting that many women suffer from depression and some commit suicide.

Again, these two attorneys have precious little to work with here in terms of evidence available to raise reasonable doubt, and they are doing the hard, often unpleasant work of a good defense attorney. But as I’ve said before, I don’t envy either of them in this case, at all.

I think the end result of today’s cross-examination of the medical examiner ultimately caused more harm than good to their case. Then again, as the line from a song reads, “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.”