By Seth Daniel
In a shocking turn of events last Thursday, a state Appeals Court reversed the second-degree murder charge of Robert Iacoviello Jr., the Revere man who had been convicted in 2010 of killing Revere Police Officer Danny Talbot – a decision that has uncovered a very painful wound in the community and the Revere Police Department, but has also vindicated the calls that have long-come from Iacoviello’s Revere family.
The decision, by default, also reversed the accessory after the fact conviction of Revere’s Jimmy Heang.
Iacoviello had been sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 15 years. Heang was sentenced to 3-6 years in state prison and has already completed his jail term some years ago.
In a 33-page decision issued last Thursday morning, the state Appeals Court, made up of three justices, ruled that Superior Court Judge Peter Brady – who coincidentally died this month – erred on several points during the heated, high-stakes trial in Boston’s Suffolk Superior Court.
“On the indictment charging Iacoviello with murder, the judgment is vacated and the verdict is set aside,” read the judgment. “On the indictment charging James Heang with accessory after the fact, the judgment is vacated and the verdict is set aside.”
The decision calls for a new trial to be conducted in the case, with better instructions – particularly on self-defense – being offered by the new trial judge.
The decision was vehemently opposed immediately by DA Dan Conley and his office, who have pledged to appeal the decision to the Supreme Judicial Court in order to uphold the 2010 verdict and prevent a new trial.
“Suffolk prosecutors expect to appeal that decision to the Supreme Judicial Court, arguing that a defendant, who armed himself and went searching for a conflict, was not acting in self-defense,” said DA Conley’s Spokesman Jake Wark. “Prosecutors will further argue that the evidence at trial did not suggest an errant shot by the defendant but rather one fired at a man’s head, killing him. As we review the totality of the evidence, we also consider the loss suffered by Officer Talbot’s family, friends, and colleagues. We offer them our unwavering support as they once again confront their grief.”
The Revere Police Department declined to make a statement on the Appeals Court’s decision to vacate the convictions.
The lengthy trial revealed that Iacoviello and several friends fired upon Talbot as he advanced towards them, perhaps even firing his weapon for unknown reasons. The group with Talbot was made up of several Police Officers from Revere and Talbot’s fiancée. Several of them had been drinking and were armed.
The murder and trial were a low point in the city and for the Police, with acrimony breaking out several times between officers who were grieving and those sympathetic to Iacoviello and his friends. At trial, many facts were brought out that did not reflect well on the Department, including that the group of officers with Talbot were intoxicated and armed; also, that they had been drinking and driving all the way from the Metro West area back to Revere.
In almost all ways, the Department has moved away from those days and re-established itself as more of a partner in the community with new leadership and a new way of connecting with young people. Many of the officers on the force now were not around during the Sept. 29, 2007 shooting and its aftermath, but those who were have expressed that the ruling had uncovered an old wound.
Meanwhile, the Appeals Court quite decidedly pointed out that Judge Brady erred when he did not instruct the jury that a self-defense claim could be made. The Appeals Court indicated Brady wrestled with giving self-defense instructions during the trial, and opted not to do so because they were “too speculative.”
That, they said, was an error and should have been put to a jury to decide.
“Given the circumstances of this case, the jury should have been instructed on self-defense,” read the decision. “When viewed in the light most favorable to Iacoviello, the evidence reveals that a gunfight broke out behind Revere High School in the early morning hours of September 29, 2007, in a dark and somewhat confined space, between individuals in two groups who were agitated and intoxicated, and that lasted only a matter of seconds. The percipient witnesses had different vantage points and could reasonably be viewed as having certain allegiances and self-interests, including cooperation agreements and the simple desire not to be prosecuted, that might color their testimony. Given all of these circumstances, it is not
surprising that the percipient witnesses provided somewhat
conflicting accounts of the critical events – accounts that, in
many cases, changed over time.”
They further stated that evidence at trial indicated Talbot might have shot his firearm twice before he was hit once in the head by a bullet and fell. The Court said if he was rendered incapacitated immediately, it would mean that he likely shot first or at least assumed a firing stance when Iacoviello fired – meaning a jury should have been able to consider whether self-defense was a factor.
“If that evidence was believed, a reasonable juror could conclude that Talbot not only pulled out his gun, but also assumed a firing stance aiming in the direction of the Iacoviello group, and fired before he himself was shot,” read the decision. “A reasonable juror also could infer from this that Talbot pulled out his Glock and aimed it at the Iacoviello group, and possibly even fired it, before Iacoviello pulled out the 9 mm Luger. That is what (one witness) told the police had occurred when he gave a recorded statement two days after the shooting, on October 1, 2007.
“Here, if it is believed that Iacoviello found himself faced by Talbot aiming, and possibly firing, a gun in his direction, that is sufficient to
put the question of the reasonableness of his response to a
jury,” continued the ruling.
Another major point was that instructions weren’t given to the jury on the possibility of manslaughter, involuntary and voluntary.
“Just as we are of the opinion that the jury should have been permitted to determine whether the shooting of Talbot was committed in self-defense and was therefore excusable, we are of the opinion that the jury should have been permitted to determine whether the shooting was committed through the use of excessive force in self-defense so
as to mitigate the crime from murder to manslaughter,” read the ruling. “As with our conclusion regarding the absence of a self-defense
instruction, this error was prejudicial.”
Iacoviello was represented by Attorney Sarah LaRoche, who could not be reached for comment. Attorney LaRoche had assisted in the original case in 2009, assisting Peter Krupp – who is now a judge.
The ninth anniversary of Talbot’s death is next week.