Frederick "Drano" Henderson got a fair trial before he was convicted of first-degree murder for the murder of Derrick Barnes on Fayston Street in Dorchester in 2011, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled Monday.
The ruling means that Henderson will spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole. The state's highest court issued a similar determination for Henderson's co-defendant, Frankie Herndon, in 2016.
Herndon held a grudge against Barnes because he felt Barnes had snitched on him in a criminal case. Barnes, who had grown up in the area, had moved away, but returned on Aug. 27, 2011 to visit with family and friends. According to a court summary of the case, he was standing on the porch of his former home when Henderson and Herndon walked up and the victim and Herndon got into an argument over Barnes's alleged snitching.
"After this exchange, the codefendant and the defendant, standing side by side on the sidewalk, pulled out handguns and fired multiple shots at the victim. The victim dropped to the floor. Both assailants walked away from the porch. The codefendant turned around, approached the fallen victim, and shot him again at close range. The victim suffered five gunshot wounds, including a fatal wound to the head."
On his appeal, Henderson's current attorney raised several issues related to the alleged ineffectiveness of his trial attorney, focusing in part on how well one key witness knew him.
The court agreed the lawyer had made some mistakes, but that none of them were egregious enough that the jury would have come to a different conclusion.
And what Henderson's current attorney called bad lawyering the court said represented rational decisions by a lawyer trying to represent his client. These included not challenging the way the prosecution was allowed to introduce statements one witness had made to police implicating the defendants - including identifying him from a single photo - after she testified in court she didn't know them, and his decision not to hire an expert witness to raise questions about the validity of eyewitness statements.
The court said that, in an affidavit, the trial attorney gave a satisfactory explanation for both. As he wrote in an affidavit submitted to the court:
"I thought a motion to suppress [the statements] would not succeed because a judge would consider a dispute as to how often Griffin had seen [the defendant] to be a jury issue and an identification from a single photo is proper when the witness knows the perpetrator."
The court said the attorney could have fought the admission of the statements, but concluded it likely would not have changed the jury's conclusion.
It similarly agreed with the trial attorney's assertion that he didn't seek funds to hire an expert on eyewitness identification because it was pretty obvious that the witness knew Henderson well enough to know that his nickname was Drano, and figured his time would be better served in trying to find holes in witness stories through probing questions during cross-examination in the trial.
The court also rejected his argument that prosecutors rejected one potential juror because he was Black, which is not allowed in Massachusetts. The court noted that the seated jury had four Black jurors and that the defense attorney himself had rejected several prospective jurors who were Black.