A Dukes County Superior Court jury acquitted two men of attempted murder and assault charges Monday in connection with a fight that spilled out of a Circuit Avenue bar, following a dramatic trial that included charges by the defense of racial bias, contradictory witness testimony, and a finding by judge Richard J. Chin of prosecutorial misconduct on the part of a veteran Island assistant district attorney.
Patrece Petersen, 42, of Vineyard Haven, accused of attempted murder, assault with intent to murder, and two charges of assault, and Darryl Baptiste, 36, of Brooklyn, New York, accused of assault with a dangerous weapon, and assault, were found innocent of all charges in connection a fight among several men in Oak Bluffs early on March 10, 2013.
Mr. Petersen, who has an extensive criminal record, still faces unrelated charges in Edgartown District Court.
In court, assistant DA Laura Marchard argued that the two men, both African-Americans, attacked Jason Cray, 46, a U.S. Army engineer stationed in Texas, and his brother, Frank Cray, 40, of Edgartown following an altercation at the Ritz Cafe. Jason Cray, who was visiting the Island on leave, and Frank Cray are white. Ms. Marshard said that Mr. Baptiste cut Frank Cray on the back of his neck and slashed his jacket with a sharp object inside the bar.
The defense said the story was very different. They said there was no altercation inside the Ritz, but that the Cray brothers initiated a street brawl on Circuit Avenue, a fight that escalated with racial tension, following a minor incident over a spilled beer.
In closing arguments, defense attorney Rob Moriarty, who represented Mr. Petersen, characterized the testimony of Jason Cray.
“This is a man who stated proudly that he threw the first punch, and he threw a second punch that almost knocked Mr. Baptiste out,” Mr. Moriarty told the jury. “He confessed to the crime of assault and battery. He should be sitting where Mr. Baptiste and Mr. Peterson are, but he’s not.”
Defense attorney John Amabile, who represented Mr. Baptiste, attacked the credibility of Frank Cray, in his closing arguments.
“Frank Cray made the statement the night this happened, and virtually everything in that statement is a lie. Every single thing he said turned out to be false,” Mr. Amabile told the jury. “There were 10 people that claim they were there when this coat was cut, and not one single person corroborated that allegation.”
Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marchard, who prosecuted the two men, told the jury that the witnesses’ testimony supported the Crays’ version of the story, and that Mr. Petersen tried to kill Frank Cray during the brawl. She showed the jury pictures of Frank Cray’s injuries.
“How do you know Patrece Petersen had the intent to commit assault with intent to kill,” she asked the jury. “You know because he said repeatedly, ‘I’m going to [expletive] kill you. Not once, not twice, five to ten times. And what was he doing? He had his fingers pushing into Frank Cray’s neck.”
Following closing arguments, the jury deliberated for less than three hours, and delivered a verdict of not guilty on all counts.
“I think the jury got it right, and I’m thankful for the time and attention they put into the trial,” Mr. Moriarty told The Times in a telephone call.
Ms. Marshard declined comment, and deferred to Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe.
“The jury has spoken, and we respect the verdict,” Mr. O’Keefe told The Times Tuesday.
With respect to Judge Chin’s findings of prosecutorial misconduct, Mr. O’Keefe said he will review the case. “I am very concerned about some of the rulings made by the court, and when I have an opportunity to review the case in detail, I will address those,” he said.
The trial was notable for the sharp rebuke judge Chin delivered to the prosecutor. On Thursday, October 30, Judge Chin halted the trial, dismissed the jury for the day, and conducted a hearing in his chambers on several issues. He asked the attorneys to file motions and present arguments the following day, Friday, October 31.
Defense attorneys filed a motion to dismiss all charges. The defense charged that Ms. Marchard failed to turn over evidence, as required by law, that tended to confirm the defendant’s version of events, and help their defense.
In question was a one-on-one interview Ms. Marchard conducted with a potential witness, Christine Arenburg, about two months after the incident. After the interview, according to court documents, Ms. Marchard told Ms. Arenburg she would not be called as a witness for the prosecution.
When defense attorneys questioned Ms. Arenburg before the trial, she said she told Ms. Marchard that “the Cray brothers were lying through their teeth,” and that “there was no fight at the Ritz and no knife at the Ritz,” according to a deposition conducted by defense attorneys. She also said in the deposition she felt race played a part in the fight.
The defense attorneys argued that Ms. Arenburg’s statements were evidence that tended to corroborate the defendants’ version of events and should have been turned over to the defense, according to the rules of the court.
Defense attorneys also argued that Ms. Marchard intimidated defense witnesses, by asking a judge to advise them of their right not to self-incriminate themselves. They said her repeated insistence that the judge advise defense witnesses of their rights amounted to a threat to prosecute the witnesses, based on their testimony, and caused the witnesses to refuse to testify.
Also at issue were mug shots of the two defendants, introduced during the trial as evidence. The defense objected, claiming it would be highly prejudicial to the jury, because they would infer that the mug shots were taken at the Dukes County Jail during booking procedure related to previous crimes. Testimony about previous unrelated crimes is rarely allowed as evidence.
In their motion to dismiss the charges, the defense attorneys called Ms. Marchard’s actions “egregious misconduct through the deliberate and purposeful use of the threat of prosecution to intimidate defense witnesses from testifying.”
In arguing against the defense motion to dismiss the charges, Ms. Marchard told the court that the Commonwealth had always acted appropriately.
“We have never spoken to these witnesses in an effort to harass or intimidate them,” Ms. Marchard said. “They have never been threatened with prosecution. Defense counsel can point to nowhere in the record where we have attempted to contact, harass, or annoy any witness in this case in an effort to preclude them from testifying.”
Judge Chin sided with the defense on every point, finding prosecutorial misconduct from the beginning of the case. In his findings, delivered from the bench, he quoted forceful language in related case law.
“This was not a momentary misstep, but a persistent course of conduct designed to prejudice the defendant,” Judge Chin said.
He found there were several elements of prosecutorial misconduct.
“The first is the late disclosure of Ms. Arenburg’s statement,” Judge Chin said. “It certainly was something that the defense should have been made aware of.”
The judge said he made an error by allowing the mug shots into evidence, based on Ms. Marchard’s contention that they were necessary as evidence of identification.
“I think that was an intentional attempt to put that before the jury,” Judge Chin said. “I think it’s highly prejudicial to two young African-American men to be shown in mug shots.”
He also said that Ms. Marchard’s requests that defense witnesses be advised of their fifth amendment rights, when no such request was made for prosecution witnesses who admitted to crimes on the witness stand, amounted to intimidation.
Among those witnesses was Corey Randolph, who, according to police reports, was involved in the altercation. He was advised by his lawyer to refuse to testify.
“I think this would be prejudicial to the defense case, if Corey Randolph’s testimony were unavailable,” Judge Chin said. “I find the Commonwealth has taken steps to deny the defense his testimony.”
Judge Chin did not, however, dismiss the charges. Instead he offered a remedy, allowing the defense to enter into evidence a statement made by Mr. Randolph to police shortly after the altercation, which included evidence that strongly supported the defendants’ case. Defense attorneys accepted the remedy, and the case resumed.