SJC says Island man’s indictments on sexual assault stand

The Supreme Judicial Court said it found no circumstances that warranted a Superior Court judge’s dismissal of the indictment.

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The Dukes County Court House. — Michael Cummo

In a decision handed down Wednesday, the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) said Dukes County Superior Court Judge Cornelius Moriarty II erred last May when he dismissed without prejudice six sexual assault indictments against Carlos G. Stevenson, owner of Mosher Photo in Vineyard Haven. The SJC reversed the decision.

Mr. Stevenson was indicted by a Dukes County grand jury in 2014 for one count of rape of a child with force and five counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14. The grand jury heard evidence that the defendant raped and sexually assaulted the victim over multiple years.

Mr. Stevenson’s lawyer argued that the commonwealth should be required to force the victim to testify before the 23-person grand jury, and that the case was based on hearsay, with only one witness, the lead investigator in the case, Tisbury Detective Mark Santon. Justice Moriarty allowed the motion. In his dismissal of the indictments, Judge Moriarty said the grand jury wasn’t able to assess the alleged victim’s credibility because she didn’t testify.

The commonwealth appealed the judge’s dismissal to the Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that consistent with longstanding Massachusetts jurisprudence, alleged victims of crime are not required to testify before the grand jury. A grand jury indictment may be based on hearsay testimony. In this case, the commonwealth presented the testimony of the Tisbury detective who interviewed the alleged victim and was the lead investigator in the matter.

“I felt the reasoning of the motion judge was seriously flawed and would unnecessarily visit additional trauma on victims of sexual assault,” Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said in a press release announcing the decision.

In a 16-page opinion, Justice Robert Cordy said that Detective Santon was able to articulate the facts clearly. Justice Cordy said that the grand jury heard all the information available to the police at the time of the proceedings, and that they were able to “render an informed decision.” In the opinion, the court stood by its position that indictments can be based solely on hearsay, and said that it found no circumstances that warranted the dismissal of the indictments by Judge Moriarty.

The Supreme Judicial Court noted, “This case does not present any circumstance that would qualify it as extraordinary so as to impair the ‘integrity of the grand jury proceedings’ to a degree that warrants dismissal of the defendant’s indictments.”