Guilty Verdict in Massachusetts Double Homicide Trial

The Middlesex County District Attorney’s office scored a big prosecutorial hit earlier this week, with the conviction – on the second try – of a defendant who had been charged with a double homicide in 2006 in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

Sean Fitzpatrick, 46, of (ironically) Freedom, New Hampshire, will never know freedom again. He was convicted February 19 2009 by a Middlesex Superior Court jury of two counts of first degree murder in the deaths of Michael Zammitti, Jr., 39, and Chester Roberts, 54. Fitzpatrick was also convicted of a lesser charge of illegal possession of a shotgun. The first degree murder convictions carry a mandatory life sentence in Massachusetts. While an appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court is by law automatic, as a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney, I doubt there is much room for reversible error in these convictions. Sentencing is scheduled for tomorrow, February 23, before the judge presiding over the trial, Judge Kathe Tuttman.

Just after 8 a.m., on Monday, March 13, 2006, Wakefield Police responded to a 911 call from an individual at Allstate Concrete Pumping, located at 17 New Salem Street in that town, reporting an unconscious male. Upon arrival at the scene, police discovered the body of Chester Roberts on the first floor of the building, and the body of Michael Zammitti in a second floor office. Both victims were both pronounced dead at the scene. Zammitti was the owner of Allstate Concrete Pumping, and Roberts was a longtime employee at the company. Autopsies by the Medical Examiner determined that Zammitti died from a gunshot wound to the head, and the cause of death for Roberts to be a gunshot wound to the back. Prosecutors produced evidence that Fitzpatrick drove to Wakefield from New Hampshire on March 13 and shot the two victims. Fitzpatrick was a friend and neighbor of the Zammitti family, who owned a summer home in New Hampshire. Prosecutors alleged that Fitzpatrick was interested in pursuing a relationship with Zammitti’s wife, Michelle, and killed Zammitti to accomplish that objective. Chester Roberts, prosecutors established, was killed by Fitzpatrick as Roberts was a witness to Zammitti’s murder.

Interestingly, Fitzpatrick had reason for hope in this trial: The prosecution’s first attempt at a conviction in this case, in a July 2008 trial, ended in a mistrial being declared on August 28 2008, after that jury was unable to reach a verdict. That mistrial very likely occurred, because Zammitti’s wife, Michele, had testified in the first trial that she, in fact, had an affair with Fitzpatrick, deceiving and being unfaithful to her husband, Michael. Doubtless in the minds of that first jury, that admission put her veracity and truthfulness in question. While Michele Zammitti had testified in the first trial that said she had told Fitzpatrick that she was ending the affair and was returning to her husband for good, that jury likely saw reasonable doubt as to whether or not she may also have been culpable in the murders. Fitzpatrick admitted in the first trial that he had an affair with Zammitti’s wife, but he denied shooting the victims. The week after the shooting, Michele began cooperating with police and made a two-hour phone call to Fitzpatrick that was secretly recorded. This time, this jury didn’t see any reasonable doubt.

Commenting on the convictions, Middlesex County District Attorney Gerald Leone said, “We are thankful to the jury for returning a just verdict on behalf of Michael Zammitti, Jr. and Chester Roberts,” District Attorney Leone said. “Sean Fitzpatrick – in a cold-blooded and reprehensible act – took the life of the man who stood in the way of what he wanted. He then cowardly eliminated the only eyewitness, Chester Roberts, by shooting him in the back. “I want to thank the members of our trial team, as well as the Massachusetts State Police and Wakefield Police, for their outstanding work over the course of nearly three years and two trials,” Leone added. Fitzpatrick’s defense attorney declined comment. The prosecution’s case was tried by Assistant District Attorney Daniel Bennett, and Deputy District Attorney Denise Casper.

By the way, for readers wondering how someone can be tried twice on the same charges: The constitutional prohibition against “double jeopardy” applies only to acquittals, not mistrials.