Murder In Massachusetts, Post #9: Neil Entwistle Guilty On All Counts

And now it is over. The jury has spoken, and Neil Entwistle will spend the rest of his life behind bars in a Massachusetts state prison. In just over 11 hours of deliberations, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all four counts- most notably the two counts of murder in the first degree, one each for Rachel Entwistle and Lillian Entwistle. I was not surprised by the short period of time taken by this jury to reach its decision. The evidence against Entwistle was, in probably the most descriptive and apt word available here, overwhelming. The theory advanced by the defense, that Rachel killed her baby and herself in a murder-suicide, was a desperate measure by a legal team that did not lack talent, but lacked any valuable exculpatory evidence to work with. That was this legal team’s “luck of the draw”, as it always is with any criminal defense attorney representing a client: As an attorney, you cannot hand-pick your “dream client”: You do the best you can with what is placed before you.

Since the close of the trial, several people have commented to me about the fact that Entwistle didn’t take the witness stand, and what that may have said about him, his guilt or his innocence. In responding to such comments, I hasten to stress that under our system of criminal justice, no defendant who is charged with a crime, of any kind, is required to testify in a prosecution against him – and no negative inferences should be drawn from this. To such people who think he “should have” testified, I will caution: You yourself could be one day charged with a crime, perhaps a serious one. Would you want the right to refuse to potentially be a witness against yourself, denied you? I am speaking here more to the systemic protection afforded defendants in our system. In this particular case, personally and professionally, I feel confident that Neil Entwistle was guilty of the crimes charged here. But if I were a member of this jury, I would have reached this conclusion based upon the summation of all the evidence submitted at trial – -not on the fact that he refused to testify. Further, I trust this jury did the same, and in fact, at least one alternate juror has publicly confirmed this.

Emotions ran high in this case, inside and outside the trial. Throughout the trial, I have served as a legal analyst and commentator for not only Court TV/TruTV, but also for Boston-area newspapers and radio stations (in addition to this blog.) In the process, my opinions and my comments became, of course, public and quite visible. Some of my comments spoke to my opinion of the overwhelming nature of the evidence against Entwistle, and my opinion of how, on many occasions prior to his extradition to and arrest in Massachusetts, Entwistle acted in effect as his own worst enemy. One member of Entwistle’s defense team sought me out to privately complain of my recorded observations, and to protest those observations. While this individual had every right to do so, I stand by my broadcast and published comments. My purpose as an attorney and legal analyst is to provide the most objective commentary I can, regarding the facts and evidence made available. I’m not going to tailor my comments to suit any one person or party in particular.

As to what follows from here: In Massachusetts, an appeal is automatic following a conviction of murder in the first degree. This is so due to the severity of the mandatory sentence: Life in state prison without parole. So far, the defense team has indicated that it plans to base their appeal on issues related to the Hopkinton Police Department’s entry into the Entwistle residence in January 2006 without a search warrant, and their retrieval of items of evidence as part of that entry. Legally, these are known as Fourth Amendment “search and seizure” issues, as well as possible privacy issues. While admirable from the standpoint of its zealousness and appellate advocacy, my legal opinion of such an appeal is that will fail. Previously, (approximately a year ago,) the defense team raised these issues in what is called a “Motion To Suppress”. This is a motion the defense brings in a criminal case, to exclude from evidence in the trial, all or certain items of evidence that police may have seized or obtained as part of their arrest and/or investigation of the crime. The hearing that a judge presides over following such a motion is called a “suppression hearing.” At Entwistle’s suppression hearing, at least two to three police officers who entered the Entwistle home testified as to the circumstances surrounding their entry into the home, and all procedures related to that entry and the collection of evidence obtained therefrom. The matter was vigorously argued, and after careful consideration of all legal, procedural and constitutional issues, the judge denied the defense’s Motion(s) To Suppress. Legally speaking, the Police Department’s entry into the Entwistle home was justified by what are known as “exigent circumstances” and a related legal concept, “probable cause.” Due to the extensive legal arguments already made surrounding this issue and the legal rulings made following those arguments, it is not at all likely that an appellate court (or the Supreme Judicial Court,) would rule otherwise. Neil Entwistle is not at all likely to live a free and happy life on this earth, ever again. Then again, neither will Rachel and Lillian Entwistle.

My apologies for not publishing this post yesterday, as I intended to. Some final thoughts on the case, will follow later today.