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Real Justice, Part 2
Program #1906
Original air date: November 21, 2000

Produced by
Ben Loeterman
Ben Gale

Written by
Ben Loeterman

ANNOUNCER: Boston, Massachusetts. Like every major city, Boston has its fair share of crime. Last week, Frontline's cameras observed the justice factory at District Court.

BAILIFF: Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye. All persons having anything to do-

ANNOUNCER: Outside the formality of the courtroom, real justice is brokered in the corridors.

LISA MEDEIROS: How about a dismissal, and you agree to do 40 hours community service?

MICHAEL O'NEIL: What happens if I don't do the hours?

LISA MEDEIROS: You got to do it.

MICHAEL O'NEIL: I would never do 40 hours of community service.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight we look inside the system, when lives are on the line.

DENNIS COLLINS: Mr. Murphy's body says, "I was murdered."

ANNOUNCER: And years are at stake, even for the very young.

MIKE COLLORA: I made a real pitch to the prosecutor this morning for eight. I didn't get anywhere, but I haven't given up completely, OK?

ANNOUNCER: Fact is, three quarters of all criminal cases are bargained away.

LISA MEDEIROS: Now, she's offered you a different deal. And Georgia, before I even tell you what it is, I really- my feeling is you should take it.

JACK CUNHA: Would you go lower, in general?

Suffolk County Superior Court

PROSECUTOR: If she wasn't raped, how did she get this way, on the floor, clothing around her knees, dead?

[The Commonwealth vs. the Downey Brothers]

[Accused of murdering an acquaintance in a bar.]

DENNIS COLLINS: You're going to hear testimony that Jimmy Murphy had two stab wounds right in his chest.

[Dennis Collins is the prosecutor]

DENNIS COLLINS: One went in- one went in deep enough to go right through his liver, the other one in deep enough right to his heart.

[Danny Downey is believed to have held the victim.]

DENNIS COLLINS: The Downeys come out. Jimmy Murphy's holding his stomach.

[Joey Downey is believed to have stabbed him.]

DENNIS COLLINS: He staggers all the way to the end of the bar and falls down in the doorway. Then the Downeys go out the door. I ask you, pay attention carefully. We will show that these two defendants murdered James Murphy.

The murder happened in a bar called Kelly's Cork and Bull a week after St. Patrick's Day, March 24th, 1997.

[Before the trial gets underway, the judge, jury and lawyers visit the murder scene]

DENNIS COLLINS: The victim goes in to use the phone in Kelly's Cork and Bull about 1:30 in the morning. There's about a dozen people in there. He goes into a small back room, and when he comes out of there, he's been stabbed.

I'm going to ask you to walk down to the far end of the bar. You'll see the small area near the bathrooms. You'll see the last booth being mentioned.

[Jack Cunha is Joey Downey's defense attorney.]

JACK CUNHA: Go along here and stand or sit, and then take a look down to your left to the rear of the bar, to determine what you can see and what your vantage point is.

[Roger Witkin is Danny Downey's defense attorney.]

ROGER WITKIN: I'd like you to look at these three tables with chairs, here in the middle of the area. As you're probably going out, take a look at the silverware drawer, please. Thank you.

DENNIS COLLINS: People saw bits and pieces, but not the actual stabbing. The fact that no one saw the knife makes the case somewhat circumstantial.

South Boston's looked down upon. A lot of the poorer areas of Boston are there, and a lot of the drug use. It's somewhat isolated from the rest of the city by an expressway, by the channel we crossed, surrounded by the harbor on two sides. A lot of the people live in the same area, know each other. Their families that go back generations have all lived in the same area. There's an ethic not to cooperate with the police department or testify or be a rat, and it affects what people are willing to tell us.

[Martin Kelly was the bartender at Kelly's Cork and Bull.]

CLERK: Raise your right hand, please. Solemnly swear that the evidence which you give before the jury-

DENNIS COLLINS: Did you hear or see anything unusual?

MARTIN KELLY: I heard a commotion going on.

DENNIS COLLINS: And by "commotion," can you describe the noise you heard?

MARTIN KELLY: They were thuds, like a thudding and banging. It sounded like there was an altercation going on. I know because, for being there for so long, and at night, there's just a certain sound that- when a fight starts.

DENNIS COLLINS: Have you been in Kelly's before when fights have started?

MARTIN KELLY: Yes, many times.

DENNIS COLLINS: What movement could you see?

MARTIN KELLY: It's the motion of a body. You know, he was holding on, going on and doing this, you know, holding onto the side of the door.

DENNIS COLLINS: OK. Thank you, sir.

ROGER WITKIN: I'm sorry, I can't keep my eye on you. Got to look at the witness. His name is Thomas Shields, and I figure that when the cops are done with him, harassing him, I can have a word with him.

Tom, got a minute? Be calm, because he's going to put you on the stand, babe.

[Shields happens to be a former client of Roger Witkin.]

ROGER WITKIN: You know what you're going to be asked. The same shit. Gentlemen. You know you're going to be asked that stuff. Don't get angry. It's all right out here, but not in there. Just answer what you're asked. "What's your name?" "Thomas Shields." "Are you the same Thomas Shields who this, that, and the other thing?" "Yes or no, whatever the answer is. "Yes, sir," "No, sir." Just be calm. Do your best.

DENNIS COLLINS: Do you recall ever seeing Joseph or Daniel Downey in the bar?

THOMAS SHIELDS: No.

DENNIS COLLINS: Can you say whether or not your memory of those events were affected in any way by your drinking alcohol?

THOMAS SHIELDS: Yes.

DENNIS COLLINS: How so?

THOMAS SHIELDS: I was drinking all day that day.

DENNIS COLLINS: And what effect, if any, did that have on your memory?

THOMAS SHIELDS: Usually I- usually when I drank, I usually blacked out, you know? So I really don't recall anything, you know?

DENNIS COLLINS: The witnesses know more than they're saying, and therefore the jury isn't hearing everything the witnesses know.

Do you remember how much you had to drink?

1st WITNESS: Well, no.

DENNIS COLLINS: Could you approximate?

1st WITNESS: I started at about 4:00.

DENNIS COLLINS: At 4:00 in the afternoon?

2nd WITNESS: I do remember a little bit, but not too much. I was very intoxicated on alcohol and drugs.

3rd WITNESS: I didn't really see much happening. They seemed to have a little bit of a disagreement.

DENNIS COLLINS: Lance Smith was a good friend of the victim. Smith's been locked up, and I think he's torn between doing right by his friend and not being the one to point the finger at the defendants.

Have you ever heard the word "rat" used in reference to something besides an animal?

LANCE SMITH: Yes.

DENNIS COLLINS: What does it mean, when you're not referring to an animal?

LANCE SMITH: It's a snitch, someone who tells on someone.

DENNIS COLLINS: Has anyone called you a rat or a snitch before you came in to testify today?

LANCE SMITH: A couple arguments with a few people.

DENNIS COLLINS: And what'd they call you?

LANCE SMITH: A rat.

DENNIS COLLINS: Have being a called a rat, a snitch, and losing friends, affected your testimony today?

LANCE SMITH: No.

[On St. Patrick's Day, 1997, a week before the murder, there was a fight.]

[Prosecutor Dennis Collins believes it provided a motive for the murder.]

DENNIS COLLINS: Boston Beer Garden is where some of the people involved were at on St. Patrick's Day, a week before the murder. There was a fight involving the victim, Jimmy Murphy, and Joe Downey. Downey was being kicked while he was on the ground, kicked in the head, by Jimmy Murphy. Joe Downey and Jimmy Murphy being lifelong residents, that would probably be grounds to go after Jimmy Murphy.

[Marianne LeClair is Jimmy Murphy's mother.]

MARIANNE LeCLAIR: They say it was an argument over a girl. He was going out with one of the Downey boys' girlfriends, who she broke up with him.

DENNIS COLLINS: The family's more familiar with the background than the jury's ever going to know about because they know who Jimmy Murphy was seeing, and they know that Joe Downey was supposed to be seeing her and- but they know all these things in a hearsay, rumor manner that the jury really wouldn't be allowed to hear about it. So their opinions are more concrete than the evidence would allow.

Frank McGuirk is the half-brother of Jimmy Murphy. He was with his brother when this fight took place involving Joe Downey.

MARIANNE LeCLAIR: They were completely different. Completely different. I didn't have the problem with Jimmy that I did with Frankie. I mean, if you gave Jimmy a little bit of baloney, he'd probably back off maybe, or something like that. But not Frankie. Uh-uh. He would just go right for it.

[Frankie is in jail for drug dealing.]

DENNIS COLLINS: If Frank Frank McGuirk doesn't testify, we'll lose an amount of evidence, and the case is that much weaker.

The brother's the black sheep of the family, so no one is very confident about what he's going to do or not do, Frank McGuirk.

We're all so uncertain about what Frank McGuirk is going to say, the judge decided to hear from McGuirk before the jury does, in order to have a better feeling of what he's going to say.

Do you recall testifying in grand jury about being at the Boston Beer Garden with your brother, Jimmy, on St. Patrick's Day in 1997?

FRANK McGUIRK: No, I don't remember.

DENNIS COLLINS: I'm showing grand jury minutes dated April 24, 1997. OK. After reading that, does that refresh your memory about where you were?

FRANK McGUIRK: No, it does not.

DENNIS COLLINS: Do you remember testifying in April of 1997?

FRANK McGUIRK: Yeah, I guess so, since I read that.

DENNIS COLLINS: OK. Do you remember whether you told the truth when you testified?

FRANK McGUIRK: I don't know. I was messed up on drugs back then, you know?

DENNIS COLLINS: Well, why don't you explain what you mean by that?

FRANK McGUIRK: I mean, strung out on heroin.

DENNIS COLLINS: Well, can you explain to the court what that means in terms of your ability to answer questions?

FRANK McGUIRK: I mean, "Say what you want to hear so I can just get out of there."

DENNIS COLLINS: Were you telling the truth?

FRANK McGUIRK: Probably not. No.

MARIANNE LeCLAIR: I knew he was going to do it because he was in jail. He didn't want to be a snitch. I said, "Snitch on who? It's your brother."

DENNIS COLLINS: You just said a few minutes ago that you think what you told the grand jury was true. Is that right?

FRANK McGUIRK: Yes.

Judge FORD: Well, why did you tell me earlier that you just were saying what you thought people wanted to hear and it probably wasn't true?

FRANK McGUIRK: I'm all confused.

Judge FORD: What were you confused about?

FRANK McGUIRK: What's going on.

Judge FORD: You didn't know what's going on? What do you think's going on here?

FRANK McGUIRK: Well, I know what's really- what's going on, but-

Judge FORD: So why did you tell me an hour ago that you just said-

FRANK McGUIRK: It's hard to tell you something when I don't remember it, you know?

DENNIS COLLINS: In the end, the judge decides that the jury not hear McGuirk because his pretending not to remember makes it impossible for the defense attorneys to cross-examine.

INTERVIEWER: Think they should prosecute him for perjury?

MARIANNE LeCLAIR: Yes, I do. If they don't, I'll be very upset. Give him five years. Let him know what it's really like not to be in the kiddy camp. Put him in a good one. No more canteen money. No more visits. See, he doesn't realize right now we're all he has. We are all he has.

DENNIS COLLINS: People are afraid of the defendants because they have an opinion about what their defendants are capable of, just like we do.

[The Commonwealth vs. Akeem Jackson.]

[Accused of murdering a 2-year-old, now 16, Akeem was 15 at the time. Josh Wall is the prosecutor.]

JOSH WALL: Do you remember this day?

POLICE OFFICER: Yes.

JOSH WALL: Did you look around the apartment?

POLICE OFFICER: No.

JOSH WALL: Number 199?

POLICE OFFICER: Yes.

JOSH WALL: OK. Do you remember the condition of it?

POLICE OFFICER: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah.

JOSH WALL: Do you remember the feces on the floor?

POLICE OFFICER: Oh yes, I do. Yes.

JOSH WALL: You know, this is so gross.

POLICE OFFICER: Feces was-

JOSH WALL: It's gross.

POLICE OFFICER: Yeah. It was in the kitchen.

JOSH WALL: It was all over the place.

POLICE OFFICER: Yeah, it was all over the place. Bathroom, kitchen, everywhere.

JOSH WALL: I just can't imagine what he was doing in there. I mean, there's no way a 2-year-old did this whole thing.

POLICE OFFICER: No. And that kid had such a- that look on his face, no emotion.

JOSH WALL: No emotion. OK.

The defendant's name in the case is Akeem Jackson. Mr. Jackson, although he was only 15, was the babysitter, virtually the full-time babysitter during the week, for a 2-year-old boy named Raheem Dickson. On September 17, 1998, while Akeem Jackson was taking care of Raheem Dickson, Raheem Dickson did something - we don't really know what it is - to upset and infuriate Akeem Jackson. And Akeem Jackson beat the boy to death, right there in the boy's apartment.

The law in Massachusetts is very clear, and there's no discretion here for us. If a juvenile is 14 or older, if he commits a homicide that's charged as a murder, he's automatically an adult.

[to victim's family] Our date for trial is Monday, October 25, four or five days from now. Do you remember when you came in this summer, we talked a little bit about plea bargaining?

One of the hardest things to do is to sit across the table from the family of a homicide victim and tell that family that this death is not a first-degree murder.

[to family] And the reasons we think about a plea is, as you know, as you think about a trial coming up, I mean, that's a hard thing to do, to go through a trial. The advantages to us are that none of us have to risk him getting a "not guilty" verdict. You know, if he pleads guilty, he's doing that time. If he goes to trial, there's always the chance that he could beat it.

I think if we tried this case, I think the most likely verdict is manslaughter. I think that's what a jury would say, is manslaughter. And the reason I think they'd say that is because of Akeem's age. The maximum is 20. And the kind of manslaughter defendants who get the maximum are usually people who shot somebody, stabbed somebody.

The kind of people who don't get the top end, get lower end, are more like Akeem. He doesn't have a criminal record. He's 15. And I just know from experience that if a jury gives him a manslaughter verdict, I really don't think a judge is going to give him 18 to 20. You know, you can tell me now what you think of 10 to 12, or 11 to 12, or you can wait and see if that's what they come back with.

FAMILY MEMBER: I mean, if that's what you're saying, that- which makes sense. If he goes in and they won't look at him because of his age and- it's a waste to go to trial.

JOSH WALL: Twelve to fourteen's not enough. Eighteen to twenty's is not. I mean, nothing's enough. But you do understand that there are some problems with going to trial. And if there's a legitimate plea offer on the table, we'll consider it. OK.

[Mike Collora and Carolyn Mansfield are Akeem's lawyers.]

MIKE COLLORA: [to Akeem] You know, you were babysitting for two weeks in a very small apartment, under conditions which would have been trying even to the mother. You didn't get to go out. You had no friends, and really nothing to do inside that apartment. And no training either. So-

This was a impulsive event, in a situation where he had been neglected much of his life. He was asked to take care of a child, for which he had no training, no experience, and no facilities. It's simply too much time.

[to Akeem] The prosecutor has agreed to lower his recommendation to 10 years. That's a reduction of 2 years. I'm going to, hopefully, have a private meeting with him before the actual plea, to see if he'll reduce it somewhat further. He claims he'll recommend that to the family. That's a reduction from a second-degree murder to manslaughter.

CAROLYN MANSFIELD: We are going to try one more time to see if we can't get something less than 10, but it looks like right now it's going to be the 10 to 12 that we had talked about before.

MIKE COLLORA: Do you have any questions?

AKEEM JACKSON: No.

MIKE COLLORA: OK. Thanks, Akeem. We'll see you.

JOSH WALL: Good defense lawyers really work a prosecutor, and work the system, and work whatever judge he's in front of, trying to get the lowest number he can. And it's up to me, professionally, to hold as firm as I can.

[David Meier is head of the homicide unit.]

DAVID MEIER: Anyhow, so with respect to Akeem Jackson, what is Collora looking for?

JOSH WALL: Seven to nine. What worries me the most is that this comes back as a manslaughter verdict.

DAVID MEIER: Right.

JOSH WALL: And then, something I think Collora has done a very good job at is, he can really pitch that Akeem is also a victim.

DAVID MEIER: But that's one thing. If it comes back a manslaughter verdict, I don't think he'd recommend 18 to 20, but he might recommend 12 to 15, 12 to 18, given the nature of the injuries. I can't see going lower, agree, than a 9 to 12. And I think 10 to 12, 10 to 12 to 15-

JOSH WALL: I mean, if he said 9 to 12, I would say, "None of that." I just don't think that's enough.

DAVID MEIER: Right. I agree.

JOSH WALL: I think both numbers have to be in double digits before we can consider it.

DAVID MEIER: Right. I agree.

JOSH WALL: OK.

Mike, I don't know if you met Detective Traylor before, he was on vacation.

MIKE COLLORA: No.

I think we can reach a plea today. I have authority from him, such as it is from someone that young. I can tell you, he feels very sorry what happened here.

As he explains it, he sent the kid into the kitchen to get a mop. The kid decided to get up on the sink. Some hot water sprayed on him, and at this point the child started crying. And Akeem felt the mother was going to be extremely angry at him for the condition of the apartment and the way the kid was screaming. It was obvious he had been burnt. And he just lost his temper at that point.

So I don't think he knew the consequences here of this. So the question really is, what's the appropriate punishment? I have in mind a couple of analogies which I'd ask you to consider. Louise Woodward got an enormous break over in Middlesex County. And in a similar case perhaps, without the breaks, recently a father received an 8 to 10-year sentence for really, I guess, a similar event.

JOSH WALL: This wasn't a shaking in which this defendant might not have known what the outcome of the shaking would be, or might have some question as to the actual intent of the defendant. This was a more prolonged, sustained attack that the medical testimony at the trial would be that it took tremendous force, all the force that this defendant could muster, in order to cause these injuries.

MIKE COLLORA: So your position with me is that a child-shaking case is somewhat different than several hard blows to the stomach. You feel that the event of hitting requires a greater sentence. But the reverse of that is that this kid is considerably younger than that father and did not have the judgment to come to the belief that he was going to end up killing the child. Now, did he intend to punish him by hurting him? I'm sure he did.

You've indicated to me some willingness to come down, if the family of the victim is willing. Might you consider 8 to 10?

JOSH WALL: The family has been very cooperative, but it's very difficult for them because of the loss that they've had. But I have no problem asking the victim's mother whether an 8 to 10, given that Akeem is sorry, whether that is something she would consider.

MIKE COLLORA: OK.

JOSH WALL: Going from our office to the courthouse, which is about a 5 to 7-minute walk, for the Akeem Jackson plea.

MIKE COLLORA: I think it might be advisable to have a conference with the judge first.

CLERK: You'd like to conference it first. OK, let me check.

MIKE COLLORA: Thank you.

JOSH WALL: I told her 8 to 10, that you were very clear that Akeem was sorry. She shook her head and said, "Ten to twelve's the bottom."

MIKE COLLORA: You're sure she said that?

JOSH WALL: Yeah. Sure she said it. I'm sure she said it.

MIKE COLLORA: I don't know if we can figure out some way to get to that mother. He says she would like 10 to 12, as opposed to he'd like 10 to 12, and she's really dictating whether it's 8 or 10. Are they taking a plea now?

CAROLYN MANSFIELD: Yeah.

MIKE COLLORA: [to Akeem] Don't feel like you're going off thinking you're going to get 12 or 15. You aren't. Maybe we can do a little better. I made a real pitch with the prosecutor this morning for 8. I didn't get anywhere, but I haven't given up completely, OK? But at least today, that's what it is.

Judge JAMES McDANIEL: Mr. Jackson, my name is James D. McDaniel, Jr. I'm a justice of the Superior Court. You've been charged with murder in the second degree in this indictment, but you are offering to plead guilty to manslaughter. Is that correct?

AKEEM JACKSON: Yes.

Judge JAMES McDANIEL: You're pleading guilty because you are guilty and for no other reason. Is that correct?

AKEEM JACKSON: Yes.

Judge JAMES McDANIEL: I've listened to Mr. Jackson. I've observed his conduct and demeanor here during this proceeding. It's clear to me that he's a bright young man. He can understand the consequences of this guilty plea. I therefore find that his plea is voluntary, is made with complete knowledge of the consequences of the plea, and it's accepted by the court.

[Akeem Jackson is sentenced to 10 to 12 years.]

MIKE COLLORA: I think it's a severe sentence. For someone his age and background, he really didn't have a chance. The argument on the other side is, well, it was- you know, there is a child lost and, you know, he did it. So it's one of these compromises that perhaps nobody's completely happy with.

JOSH WALL: I think most just in this case would be, like, an 18 to 20-year sentence, you know? And then the kid's out at 35. He's got, you know, a good adult life ahead of him. But it's a system of compromise, and you've got to make intelligent compromises.

PROSECUTION STAFFER: Josh, you're sure you don't want to say anything to them?

JOSH WALL: What do they want?

PROSECUTION STAFFER: They just want the basics, that- you know.

JOSH WALL: I don't- see, there's nothing for me to say, you know? There's nothing- you know, it's 10 to 12 for a kid who died. And how do you justify that? You justify that by explaining- saying stuff about the defendant that I don't feel like saying.

PROSECUTION STAFFER: If you don't want to, that's fine. But I just don't think it's a bad thing. You know, it's not a bad result for us.

JOSH WALL: All right. I mean, if you feel that way, OK.

PROSECUTION STAFFER: OK.

REPORTER: Now, just tell us about the facts of this case.

JOSH WALL: On September 17, 1998, the victim, Raheem Dickson, was 2 years old-

[The Commonwealth vs. Georgia Robinson, accused of assault and battery on two of her three children, ages 11 and 14.]

[Detective William Doogan]

Det. WILLIAM DOOGAN: So here we are, Christmas night, and we have an 11-year-old, a 14-year-old, and a 17-year-old up here at the police station, telling us how their mother has been beating them up for four years- getting hit with the buckle end of a belt, an extension cord, cable wire, broom handle, stomped, kicked, slapped, punched. You're talking little kids here.

[Asst. D.A. Eileen Murphy]

EILEEN MURPHY: This is a Christmas eve incident. The children were- didn't have any money to buy their mother a present. They were making up a dance. One of them fell against a door frame. That made a loud noise, and the mother got angry, and she then grabbed a cable wire and struck two of the children, causing visible welts.

[Georgia Robinson is the children's mother.]

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Once your child pick up that phone and decide to call the police or dial 911 and say, "My mommy or daddy is talking to me harsh, and I feel intimidated," or "They've hit me," and the police comes to your house, they arrest you, and you're charged for assault and battery on your own child. Where is this district attorney that cares so much about him? Is she picking him up to go to school? Does she care what happen to him? Is she putting clothes over their backs?

[Since her arrest the children have been living with their grandparents.]

GEORGIA ROBINSON: My heart is crying tears. You see this house. The house is empty without them. It's strange. My kids, we were always close. My son, the baby, sleeps in the bed with me every night. So he's always cuddled up beside me, and he doesn't like to be far away from me.

[Because the case has dragged on for 11 months, Georgia has hired a new lawyer, Lisa Medeiros.]

VOICE MAIL: Repeat. Today at 5:53 P.M. Hi, this is a message for Lisa Medeiros. My name is Shanice Pines and I am a student at Harvard Law. I'm doing a Criminal Justice Institute-

GEORGIA ROBINSON: I thought they were trying to get me fired from my job because I'd been out so much time.

LISA MEDEIROS: I wanted to ask you about that.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: You know what I mean? Keep on putting it off, putting it off, putting it off. It's like- everybody's like- it's unbelievable.

LISA MEDEIROS: It's just not fair that you were just brought back to court and brought back to court and brought back to court. And because of that, some of these charges need to be dismissed because it wasn't proper. You've been deprived of your children. Have you had any contact with your children?

GEORGIA ROBINSON: No.

LISA MEDEIROS: OK. See, now, that's something that's very crucial, because had this case been resolved in a more expedient manner- I'll tell you what. Even if you were to be found guilty, which I'm not saying is going to happen, you're going to probably get visitation with your children. But while the case is pending, you don't have any visitation with them, do you.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: The summer's going to make it a year.

LISA MEDEIROS: I know. I know. It's almost a year. This isn't right.

My problem with this case is that they're charging her criminally with assault and battery, and that's an offensive touching of somebody without their permission. So that means that any time you touch your child and they don't like it could be considered an assault and battery. And I think that's making the- it's too broad a definition of when the state can step in when a parent is disciplining a child.

EILEEN MURPHY: All right. He has Polaroid pictures that he took Christmas day, 1998.

LISA MEDEIROS: OK.

Det. WILLIAM DOOGAN: These are pictures- that was a picture of Angela's left leg, taken by the-

LISA MEDEIROS: Is that the sister, supposedly?

Det. WILLIAM DOOGAN: Right.

LISA MEDEIROS: OK.

Det. WILLIAM DOOGAN: This is a picture of a looping welt mark on Jonathan's back.

[At the DA's offices, prosecutor Eileen Murphy watches the children's videotaped statements.]

    COUNSELOR: How come you came here today, what you came to talk about?

    ANGELA: Well, there's been a lot of stuff with my mom. The last time we got hit by her was this Christmas that just passed. She hit me and my brother, Jonathan.

    JONATHAN: She was swinging it wild.

    ANGELA: I was blocking. And she was just hitting me.

    JONATHAN: She jumped on me like this, three times.

    COUNSELOR: I see.

    JONATHAN: And I coughed up blood one time.

    ANGELA: And she stomped on his stomach.

    COUNSELOR: I see. And how do you know that she did that?

    ANGELA: Because I was right there watching it.

EILEEN MURPHY: It's devastating when you watch these videos. It just hits home, what kind of hell these children live through day in and day out. And it makes me depressed. Sometimes I get upset.

    ANGELA: We fight to be first.

    COUNSELOR: How come?

    ANGELA: Because the first person that she hits, she hits them not that much times, because she wants to hit the other one. So she just maybe give you four hits and goes to the other one, and beats until she feels she's ready to stop.

EILEEN MURPHY: I want to lock this woman up in jail. I don't know if it's going to be possible. That's what I want to do. Just for the pain she caused them. It's only fair that she gets a little bit of it.

    COUNSELOR: How often does she hit you? Like, how many times a week-

    JONATHAN: Almost every day.

LISA MEDEIROS: How do you feel after watching this? What are we going to do?

GEORGIA ROBINSON: It seems so rehearsed. When I saw it, I was shocked, and those are my kids.

LISA MEDEIROS: Yeah, I know. See, that's why- think if you don't know these children, you know?

GEORGIA ROBINSON: But I was thinking- and thinking about kids that I know they were abused. And even the parents that abuse them, they're not willing to give any information or say anything. It's hard to get even information out of them. And my kids, they were just rattling out information.

LISA MEDEIROS: That is a very good point.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Rattling out information. You didn't have to ask. She didn't even have time to ask. They were, like, all over the place. "Yeah, my mother, she does that. She beat us all the time, every day."

LISA MEDEIROS: That's a good point. They were very rehearsed. Now, did I tell you about the mark on Jonathan, on the picture that they have?

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Which one?

LISA MEDEIROS: The one that they have. The police have the picture where it's like- it looks like this, on his back.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: On his back?

LISA MEDEIROS: Yeah. What's that?

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Probably a loop from the belt. I'm not sure.

LISA MEDEIROS: Because they're going to introduce those to the jury, too.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Uh-huh.

LISA MEDEIROS: It's a tough case.

INTERVIEWER: You're worried about this case?

LISA MEDEIROS: I'm very worried about this case. There are all these witnesses against her, which doesn't make sense that these people would be testifying and saying these things against her unless it were true. It just seems like it's easier to believe that would happen if those people are saying this. So I'm worried about her getting a "guilty."

[The Commonwealth vs. the Downey Brothers]

DENNIS COLLINS: After we lose the McGuirk testimony, the evidence for the Commonwealth is weaker. So I called my boss, David Meier.

[on the phone] How are you doing? You got a minute? The defense was interested in an offer. So I've extended manslaughter offers, conditional on your approval.

[Second degree murder carries a life sentence, while the maximum for manslaughter is 20 years.]

DENNIS COLLINS: [on the phone] Flesh a few things out let the defense try to have their way with them. But that's the way it'll end up. I don't think we'll close today.

ROGER WITKIN: The numbers spoken of now for Daniel Downey is 7 to 10, state prison. And for Joseph, 18 to 20.

DENNIS COLLINS: I think Joe's the one who had the motive to do the stabbing, and he's the likely one who did it. There's only one stabber involved. If Danny helped out at all, it was to help out his brother. And that's why he's keeping his mouth shut right now. He's helping out his brother.

ROGER WITKIN: There's an offer now on the table for Joey to get 18 to 20, manslaughter, and you 7 to 10 state prison, if you both take those numbers.

JACK CUNHA: Roger says that on 18 to 20, you're rapping about 15.

ROGER WITKIN: My guy, of course, his ears perked up on 7 to 10. Oh yeah. Single numbers. He liked that. And he says, "Well, what does Joey say?"

JACK CUNHA: I heard him saying, yeah.

ROGER WITKIN: So I mean, we're in a very ticklish area.

JACK CUNHA: Yeah, I hear you.

ROGER WITKIN: I got my guy on the number.

JACK CUNHA: We don't have my guy. OK. Well, it's both or nothing.

ROGER WITKIN: Would you give him a 12-to-15?

JACK CUNHA: No. You got a weak case, Dennis.

DENNIS COLLINS: Well, why do you think it's a manslaughter?

JACK CUNHA: I hear you.

DENNIS COLLINS: It's a murdered body. If it was one wound, you'd have a 12 to 15, but not two. You know, there's no conceivable way this was a mistake. Whoever put that knife in him meant to kill him.

ROGER WITKIN: Here's the problem. My guy, offered the 7 to 10, cannot take the 7 to 10 unless Joe does it, too. So he's got to bend Joe's arm to take the 18 to 20, in order to get us into that position.

[to Daniel Downey] The offer made to you is absolutely reasonable. It really is. You can't turn it down in good conscience, facing what you face. The problem is him.

JACK CUNHA: [to Joseph Downey] It's a serious offer because he's offering, to some extent, the rest of your life. And I don't know what to tell you in terms of how you want to play that gamble.

ROGER WITKIN: Joe may not be wanting to do 18 to 20, but he's got two factors that are involved. Number one, he could take first or a second, which is life, and secondarily, he's impinging on Dan.

JACK CUNHA: They have to know the pressure that that puts on Joe from his brother, whom he loves very much. So this is a real human drama, and there's a real dilemma involved. And it also makes it a difficult decision for both these young men.

ROGER WITKIN: [to Daniel Downey] I want you to think, all right? Think. All right, buddy.

[Over the weekend, the Downey family help the brothers decide what they should do.]

[Monday morning. The brothers have decided not to take the plea.]

JOSEPH DOWNEY: Today's our big day, going to the jury.

GUARD: Going to the jury today?

JOSEPH DOWNEY: Scary, yeah.

DANIEL DOWNEY: See what happens.

JOSEPH DOWNEY: See how it goes.

JACK CUNHA: They're going to let the jury decide their fate.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think about that?

JACK CUNHA: A lot of pressure on me.

ROGER WITKIN: Going to rock 'n roll.

[A minute before the deadline, Joey has a change of heart.]

JACK CUNHA: Just think, after this trial's over, you won't-

DENNIS COLLINS: Do you want me to?

JACK CUNHA: Would you go lower on Joe?

DENNIS COLLINS: Can't do it now.

JACK CUNHA: Why?

DENNIS COLLINS: Judge wants to start at 9:30. Can't do it. They can't be- if you want make a counter-offer and tell them to offer Friday. I just- that's why I thought I'd hear from you Friday.

JACK CUNHA: I just got the word now. (inaudible) He said he couldn't do it.

DENNIS COLLINS: Yeah.

Judge FORD: All right. Good morning, counsel.

ROGER WITKIN: Good morning, Your Honor.

Judge FORD: Good morning.

Judge FORD: The trial will proceed? Is that correct?

ROGER WITKIN: Yes, sir.

Judge FORD: All right.

ROGER WITKIN: If you feel that Dan Downey may have stabbed or helped someone stab James Murphy, you have a reasonable doubt. If you feel there's a likelihood that Dan Downey did that, you have a reasonable doubt. If you find that it's probable that Dan Downey was somehow involved, you have a reasonable doubt. If you have a reasonable doubt, the judge will instruct you, you must acquit.

JACK CUNHA: This case is strictly based upon speculation. We'd like to be in a position of coming up here and saying that this is what makes sense and this is what really happened, but we cannot because the evidence doesn't allow it.

DENNIS COLLINS: Mr. Murphy's body says, "I was murdered." He's stabbed twice in the chest and never gets his hands up to defend himself. How could that happen? Two people. Someone grabs him from behind, another person stabs him in the front. Two people are acting together, two people who have to be near where the victim's going to be when he goes back to that phone. Who are the two people who know each other well enough to act quickly together, who are near enough to get Mr. Murphy when he finally gets alone? They're sitting right here.

[The Commonwealth's case against Georgia Robinson is running into problems.]

[The children don't want to testify against their mother.]

Det. WILLIAM DOOGAN: Seems that access to Angela and Jonathan has been pretty much cut off. I want to talk to them myself and get a read from them as to how they feel. And I want to find out, you know, are they being made not to cooperate in this, or is it something that they really want? We'll see what happens. She might not even want to talk to me when I get over there, Angela.

[Forty-five minutes later]

Det. WILLIAM DOOGAN: Oh, that didn't go so great. She doesn't want to go to court. She doesn't want to see her mother go to jail. But most of all, she doesn't want to go back to her mother because evidently they were taken away once before, and when they went back, she beat them worse.

[Without the children's testimony, the videotapes are not admissible.]

EILEEN MURPHY: We have to make a decision within the next week or so whether we're going to go forward and force the children to testify against their mother, which is never a good thing to do because it just causes such schism within the child themselves, and I can't do that, or we're going to go forward just on a limited number of charges with respect to what happened on Christmas Eve, that we can prove through some circumstantial evidence- from the detective's observations, from the father's observations, from the pictures, and from medical testimony. That way the children would not have to testify.

[The prosecution offers a deal: two years probation and counseling.]

LISA MEDEIROS: [on the phone] I got your faxes, and I talked to Georgia about it. Her issue is with the counseling. And I told her that I thought that everybody involved in a situation like this in a family would need counseling. And I just wanted to get a feel from you, how you guys think about the kids having counseling.

EILEEN MURPHY: Well, I think family counseling is going to be part of it. My understanding is, the DSS case will either reopen or stay open so that family counseling can happen.

LISA MEDEIROS: Right. That's great. Thank you very much.

EILEEN MURPHY: You're welcome.

LISA MEDEIROS: And I'll talk to you soon.

EILEEN MURPHY: OK. Bye-bye.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: The DA, she wanted blood. My first attorney was telling me, "Oh, she wants blood. She wants jail time." All of a sudden she turns to a nice girl?

LISA MEDEIROS: Something has changed. Maybe it's just the children don't want to testify. She doesn't want to, you know, put the children through that kind of burden. I don't know what it is, but something has changed. But that doesn't mean that your exposure has changed. What makes me concerned is, what if we lose, and you don't get your kids back?

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Since we're just looking at two counts now, it makes it more-

LISA MEDEIROS: It's still five years.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: I don't think I need to go and see a psychiatrist or- you know what I mean? I think the kids, after going through this, you know what I mean- I would seek counseling for me and my kids. But I don't want to be mandated by the court because there's nothing wrong with me. I'm just trying to be a parent.

LISA MEDEIROS: Maybe we'll go to trial and we'll win. And that is great.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: I'll take the trial.

[A few weeks later, the prosecutor calls back.]

[Trial day for Georgia Robinson]

LISA MEDEIROS: [on the phone] All right. What if we did a pretrial probation with a- I'll up the ante with the conditions. And if I can tell her, "Look, you don't even have to get up there and admit to anything, so it can't be punishment. It's just a monitoring. It's monitoring."

All right, Eileen. Thanks for calling. Bye-bye.

Ay-ay-ay. Well, she's talking pre-trial probation.

The district attorney is agreeing to put it on pre-trial probation. The district attorney is agreeing not to prosecute the case. I like it, and she's got to take it. She has got to take it. Oh my gosh. If she says no pre-trial probation- so-

[on the phone] Now she's offered you a different deal. And Georgia, before I even tell you what it is, I really- my feeling is, you should take it. It's a huge concession. Basically, what's happening is, they're saying, "You know what? We're not going to prosecute this." The Commonwealth is saying, "You know, we agree to dismiss this case, but not until 2002." You know, pre-trial probation is too sweet to pass up. Just from my perspective, being an attorney, I know how sweet it is.

EILEEN MURPHY: I've made an offer of pre-trial probation. And essentially that doesn't mean she'll have any criminal record, ever. What it does is, it keeps the case open for a year, two years, three years, whatever the judge says, for Georgia to be monitored, to get some counseling, and so we can keep some safety in that household.

LISA MEDEIROS: The reason that the district attorney is suggesting this is because she won't go forward. If we were to push it, there's a very good possibility that she would be forced to dismiss the case. But I don't ever want to push for that. Just let's try this and see how it goes.

Georgia, you know that ultimately, it's your decision. It's your life. But really, this is the first time I've ever said, "You got to grab this."

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Yeah.

LISA MEDEIROS: I just- it's the right thing.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: I was expecting this to be thrown out, you know? But if it's eventually that I have to take classes, I don't know for what. But I guess, you know, I'm just dying to get it over with.

LISA MEDEIROS: OK, looks like we're able to go in now. So let's hope we get this done.

JUDGE: What's the name of the case?

EILEEN MURPHY: Georgia Robinson, Your Honor. Eileen Murphy for the Commonwealth.

JUDGE: Ms. Medeiros, I know that you've signed this on behalf of your client, but I would like her to sign it, as well, indicating that she accepts the fact that she's going to be under the supervision of this court for pre-trial probation.

Ma'am, you and your attorney have agreed to a variety of conditions with which you have to comply. If you fail to comply with any of those conditions or you're arrested and charged with any crime, this case is going to be brought back, restored to the trial list, and the Commonwealth will have the right to try the case. Do you understand that?

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Yes, I do.

JUDGE: Good luck, Ms. Robinson.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: Thank you.

EILEEN MURPHY: Thank you, Your Honor.

LISA MEDEIROS: Thank you, Your Honor.

EILEEN MURPHY: I feel defeated, in many respects. Georgia Robinson knew the system, and I feel she manipulated it, and she got the better of us. I don't think there was anything we could do to save this case.

LISA MEDEIROS: And what happened is really good, but please, you know, instead of- because I know you've got a little bit of a temper. Right? So I'm just saying, you know, to them- if you don't like what they're doing, give me a call.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: OK.

LISA MEDEIROS: And I hope you have your place back real soon.

GEORGIA ROBINSON: I know I will.

They've changed my kids' life. They've changed my life for a year. You know, my daughter, she's never going to be the same because since she know that she can run free and do what she pleases, you know, it's a whole different child I'm dealing with. I get back my sons, I don't know what type of people they are now. You know, it's hard. So I'm going to have to start all over again.

LISA MEDEIROS: It just always feels like maybe I could have done a little bit better, but I don't think so. I think in this case, this was really the right thing. Hope it works OK.

[The Downey brothers' jury are in their second day of deliberations.]

[The Downey family waits for the verdict.]

DOWNEY MOTHER: I'm hoping they come home with us today, you know, really, and it's all behind us.

MARIANNE LeCLAIR: Well, I'm sure that they're going to walk. I got an idea. I'm hoping they're going to walk into the ocean, but that's beside the point. But yeah, I think so.

[After 12 hours the jury reaches a verdict.]

CLERK: Mr. Foreman, how say you as to defendant Daniel Downey? Is he not guilty or guilty of some offense?

FOREMAN: Guilty.

CLERK: Guilty of what offense?

FOREMAN: Second-degree murder.

CLERK: What say you as to defendant Joseph Downey? Is he not guilty or guilty of some offense?

FOREMAN: Guilty.

CLERK: Guilty of what offense?

FOREMAN: Second-degree murder.

Judge FORD: In that case, Mr. Clerk, you may impose the mandatory sentence.

CLERK: Daniel Downey, the court. in consideration of your offense on that indictment, now sentences you to be in prison for and during the term of your natural life. You are advised of your right to appeal, pursuant to the Massachusetts rules of appellate procedure, from your conviction in these matters. Joseph Downey, the court sentences you to be in prison, Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction, for and during the term of your natural life.

JOSEPH DOWNEY: Thank you, Your Honor.

MARIANNE LeCLAIR: I'm so happy. I am- I am just- I can't believe it!

JOSH WALL: On to the next case.

 

A production of Lion Television and Ben Loeterman Productions, Inc. for WGBH/FRONTLINE in association with the BBC.

(c) 2000 Lion Television Limited and WGBH Educational Foundation.
All Rights Reserved.

FRONTLINE is a production of WGBH Boston, which is solely responsible for its content.

 

WRITTEN BY
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ANNOUNCER: For more about the real-life world of state prosecutors, defense attorneys and the cases they handle, come to FRONTLINE's Web site for a behind-the-scenes report on the making of this series. Read an interview with public defender Lisa Medeiros. What's it like elsewhere? Read essays offering a national perspective and more at pbs.org or America On Line keyword PBS.

Next time on FRONTLINE: Fat: We love it, we hate it.

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    CATHERINE STEINER-ADAIRE, Harvard Eating Disorders Center: People are bombarded with messages: "Eat this," "Eat this," "Eat this." And then, on the other hand, they're told "Don't eat."

ANNOUNCER: Why is it so hard to get rid of fat? And should we?

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    Prof. MICHAEL WHITE: -by looking at the way the earliest Christians thought about Jesus.

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    HOLLAND L. HENDRIX, President, Union Theological Seminary: The historian's task in understanding Jesus is a lot like the archeologists. You peel back layer after layer of interpretation. And what you find is a plurality of Jesuses.

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