The Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday overturned a man's first-degree murder conviction for the shooting death of Dantley Leonard as Leonard was helping a friend move his girlfriend move into an apartment on Ames Street in Dorchester's Franklin Field development on Nov. 12, 2016.
The state's highest court agreed with Julian Troche's attorney that the Suffolk County prosecutor in the case wrongly made statements implying Troche had gang ties and wrongly got a witness to admit he had pled the Fifth about a particular bit of evidence during the August, 2019 trial.
But the court said that what made a new trial a requirement was the handling of some possible new evidence texted to defense attorneys after one particular witness had testified he had seen Troche and a pal driving around the area about 20 minutes before Leonard was fatally shot 11 times - and his friend three times, but not fatally - by somebody in a gray Nissan. Prosecutors argued that Troche was out for revenge and thought - mistakenly - that Leonard had been the shooter who murdered his friend outside a Dorchester club a couple months earlier.
"[D]efense counsel received an anonymous text message suggesting that the witness had falsely identified the defendant as part of a plot to frame him. The text message was accompanied by screenshots of what purported to be a communication from the witness's social media account; if the screenshots were genuine, as presented by the anonymous sender, the witness appeared to express discomfort with his allegedly false testimony and was buoyed by the unidentified person with whom he was communicating."
Judge Mitchell Kaplan ordered prosecutors and police to try to find the sender of the message - which appeared to come from a particular Facebook account with a common Spanish name - and to ask the witness about the texts. But prosecutors and police said the witness denied getting such texts or that anybody else had even had access to his phone to make screen captures of them. Kaplan ruled against a defense request to bring the witness back into court for a voir dire hearing to be questioned about the messages.
In its ruling, the SJC said this was a critical mistake, one that possibly tilted the outcome unfairly against Troche, enough so to require a new trial:
"There was powerful circumstantial evidence that the defendant was the person in the silver sedan who was with Daily [the other man allegedly in the car] at the time and in the vicinity of the shooting. Nevertheless, [the witness's] identification testimony was critical to the Commonwealth's case. Rodriguez [the witness] was the only witness who had identified the defendant as being near the scene of the shooting, approximately twenty minutes prior thereto; according to Rodriguez, the defendant was the driver in a silver sedan circling the neighborhood, which vehicle matched the description of the vehicle identified as fleeing the scene of the killing. The text message and screenshots, which were sent to defense counsel after Rodriguez's testimony was complete, suggested that he had falsely identified the defendant in connection with a scheme to frame him. We cannot exclude a 'reasonable possibility' that depriving the defendant of an opportunity to conduct a voir dire examination of Rodriguez and put to rest questions regarding the social media information "might have contributed to the jury's verdict," and the defendant was prejudiced thereby."
This is the second murder charge Troche has faced. Just five days after Leonard's murder, Troche was arrested on charges he shot Andrew Flonory to death on Astoria Street in Mattapan on June 18, 2016.
In October, 2018, however, the Suffolk County District Attorney's office dropped all the charges against him in the Flonory case, according to court records.