Things to know about the Karen Read murder case, which could go to a retrial

Jun 26, 2024, 9:01 PM | Updated: Jul 10, 2024, 2:12 pm

DEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — Prosecutors in Massachusetts say they plan to retry Karen Read for the death of her Boston police officer boyfriend. She’s accused of striking him with her SUV and leaving him to die in a snowstorm. The judge declared a mistrial after jurors said they couldn’t agree.

Karen Read was facing second degree murder and two other charges for allegedly striking John O’Keefe with her SUV and then leaving the scene when she dropped him off at a fellow officer’s house after a night of drinking.

Both sides will be in court July 22 to consider next steps. Plenty of questions remain unanswered. A federal investigation of how law enforcement handled O’Keefe’s death continues, and Read’s defense wants to question the jurors. Her lawyers said three of the 12 said the jury was united for acquitting Read of the most serious charge, so trying her again for murder would be unconstitutional double jeopardy.

A motion to dismiss

Prosecutors have yet to respond to a defense motion to dismiss the charges of second degree murder and leaving the scene of an accident resulting in death. Defense lawyers said they were contacted by one juror and two acquaintances of jurors. They said all three jurors said the jury had unanimously concluded that Read was not guilty on those charges, and they couldn’t agree only on the remaining manslaughter charge.

Partial verdicts are possible in Massachusetts, but the defense motion said Judge Beverly Cannone abruptly declared the mistrial in open court without first questioning jurors about where they stood on each charge, or giving the prosecution and defense a chance to raise questions.

If the court requires more information on the defense motion filed Monday, Read’s defense team is calling for a “post-verdict inquiry” in which they would be allowed to “seek additional proof from the jurors” regarding their unanimous findings on the two counts.

What’s a judge to do?

Some Massachusetts trial court veterans defended the judge’s response to the deliberations.

Brad Bailey, a former state and federal prosecutor and longtime criminal defense lawyer, said Cannone declared a mistrial on all the charges because that is what she heard from the jury: Jurors repeatedly said they were deadlocked but never indicated they had reached a decision on any of the charges.

Juries are routinely instructed “that any communication with the judge should not reveal what actually is going inside the jury room in terms of the nature and substance of their deliberation,” but it’s not unusual for jurors to declare themselves deadlocked “on all counts,” or to announce decisions on only some counts, Bailey said.

Michael Coyne, the dean at the Massachusetts School of Law, said he found it “curious” that jurors never indicated they had reached a verdict on some of the counts — if indeed they had. “That is the unusual part — If in fact they had reached consensus on some, why didn’t they report it to the court?”

Since the jurors left the verdict forms blank, Coyne expects prosecutors to make the case that they “didn’t reach consensus on anything,” he said.

Juror secrecy, for now

The jurors’ identities have not been released yet, and none are believed to have spoken with the media. A week after declaring the mistrial, Cannone ordered a 10-day hold on naming them publicly, citing “a risk of immediate and irreparable injury should the list be made available to the public at this time.” She noted that people surrounding the case had been charged with intimidation. The ruling aims to protect the jurors’ privacy if they want to remain anonymous, but doesn’t prevent them from volunteering to speak publicly.

The order could be extended out of concern for “potential violence to those jurors if their names and other identifying information was disclosed,” Coyne observed, but he predicted that pressure to release their names will grow.

“We all wanted to know the names before to see if anyone would speak,” the dean said. “Now it’s even more pressing because the defendant is saying the jurors reached a verdict on counts one and three. We ought to know what they are actually saying about that.”

Investigating the investigator

The lead investigator, State Trooper Michael Proctor, was relieved of duty after the trial revealed he’d sent vulgar texts to colleagues and family, calling Read a “whack job” and telling his sister he wished Read would “kill herself.” He said that was a figure of speech and that his emotions had gotten the better of him.

The defense also suggested he should’ve stepped aside from the investigation because he had personal relationships with several of the people involved in the case. Read’s lawyers also questioned the sloppiness of the police work: The crime scene was left unsecured for hours; the house wasn’t searched; bloodstained snow was scooped up with red plastic drinking cups; and a leaf blower was used to clear snow.

Proctor was relieved of his duties after the trial but was still being paid until Monday, when a state police hearing board changed that suspension to without pay, effective immediately. Meanwhile an internal affairs investigation could result in charges against him, and there’s a federal probe into state law enforcement’s handling of the case. The U.S. Attorney’s office said it neither confirms nor denies investigations.

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Things to know about the Karen Read murder case, which could go to a retrial