Trial date set for Karen Read in controversial Canton murder case

Crime

In a marathon hearing Friday, the judge in Karen Read’s murder case heard several motions and set a trial date for next March.

Karen Read appeared in Norfolk County Superior Court for a pre-trial hearing in May. John Tlumacki / The Boston Globe, File

Prosecutors and defense attorneys for Karen Read went head-to-head in court Friday, trading scathing barbs and arguing a series of new motions as Judge Beverly Cannone set a trial date for March 12, 2024. 

Read is accused of killing her boyfriend, Boston Police Officer John O’Keefe, early on Jan. 29, 2022. 

Prosecutors say that after a night of drinking, Read struck O’Keefe with her car and left him to die in the snow while dropping him off at the Canton home of Brian Albert, a fellow Boston police officer. Her lawyers argue that she is being framed, and that O’Keefe was actually beaten to death. 

Read has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, motor vehicle manslaughter while driving under the influence, and leaving the scene of a collision causing injury and death.

The contentious case has drawn extensive media coverage and widespread debate in Canton and beyond, with Read’s supporters rallying outside the courthouse during her hearings. 

Defense says prosecutors have withheld evidence

In court Friday, the defense team accused prosecutors of withholding several items of evidence, including samples taken from O’Keefe’s clothing and body, as well as pieces of a broken taillight reportedly found at the scene.

Defense attorney Elizabeth Little alleged that since Read’s arraignment more than a year ago, “the defense still has not been allowed to so much as look at the physical evidence that the commonwealth has had in its possession for 21 months, and has so desperately withheld from the defense out of fear of what it might show.” 

Little also said that date-marked evidence bags suggested investigators conducted at least five undocumented searches at Albert’s home and reportedly recovered pieces of a taillight.

“We don’t have a police report for any of those. No notes, no reports, no photographs of where those taillight pieces were found in the yard,” Little said, adding, “If this information exists, we’re entitled to it. We need a short compliance date for the production of these notes and reports so that we can at least attempt to prevent further fabrication of evidence.”

Assistant District Attorney Adam Lally pushed back, asserting that “any suggestion that we’re ‘desperately withholding’ evidence from the defense as we’re afraid of what it might show is just patently ridiculous.” 

He noted that some evidence is still undergoing testing, also casting doubt on the defense claim of five undocumented searches. 

“I will certainly look into that, and if there is any documentation related to those — whether they be notes, whether they be photographs, whether they be reports — the commonwealth has no issue of providing those in short order,” Lally said. 

Cannone ordered expedited testing and asked prosecutors to report back on results by Nov. 3.

Hair sample called into question

At one point, the defense team also accused prosecutors of lying about the facts in court filings.

The dispute involved a hair prosecutors said was recovered from Read’s bumper. Defense attorney Alan Jackson argued that “the history of that hair is somewhat tortured,” asserting that testing on the hair showed “no human DNA detected.” 

“So after … 19 months or so of saying this was a human hair on the back of that bumper, turns out it’s not hair, and DNA testing indicated it was not a hair, and now the commonwealth seems to be in some sort of triage mode to try to figure out how they made a mistake,” Jackson said. “Actually, I question whether or not it was a mistake, because you can make a mistake once — I don’t know that you could do it four separate times.” 

He also alleged that the state police forensic expert who initially confirmed that the hair was human had failed their proficiency exam.

Lally refuted Jackson’s narrative as “a complete misrepresentation of what that DNA testing report says.” He asserted that the test’s inability to detect a sufficient amount of DNA did not necessarily mean that the hair wasn’t human.

Prosecutors are requesting further DNA testing that would likely use up the evidence sample, given its size. The defense, however, is asking that the hair be made available to their expert first.

Livestream of the hearing via WCVB.

Read asks judge to return bail money

Read’s attorneys also asked the court to return $80,000 in bail money she had previously posted and leave Read free on personal recognizance. In exchange, they said, Read would turn in her passport and sign a waiver of rendition. 

The lawyers’ argument was based in part on Read’s mounting legal expenses, with defense attorney David Yannetti describing an “overwhelming financial crush” tied to her criminal case.

He denied that Read posed a flight risk, noting her personal ties to Massachusetts and the national publicity her case has generated.

“My client is one of the most recognizable criminal defendants in America,” Yannetti said. “Where on earth would she go, even if she wanted to go somewhere?”

Yannetti also argued that the circumstances of the case have “completely changed” since Cannone last reconsidered Read’s bail earlier this year.

He cited information from a snowplow driver who allegedly cleared Fairview Road the day O’Keefe died and told investigators that he did not see a body outside Albert’s home when he passed by early that morning.

“The plow driver’s testimony should end this case. To put it simply, no body at 2:30 a.m. means Karen Read is innocent,” Yannetti said. “Forget about all the other evidence that points to her innocence; this one fact alone prevents the commonwealth from ever convicting her.”

He also attacked the credibility of one investigator, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Michael Proctor, alleging that Proctor has personal ties to the Alberts and even calling him “corrupt.” 

Audience members in the courtroom erupted into laughter and jeers as Lally asserted there is “simply no evidence of Trooper Proctor having a close connection with the homeowners.”

District Attorney Michael Morrissey made a similar statement last month, when he released a video attempting to debunk conspiracy theories and condemning witness harassment in the case.

Morrissey asserted that Proctor had no close personal relationship with anyone involved in the investigation, nor was he at the scene the day O’Keefe died. 

A statement of the case filed by prosecutors in 2022 notes that Proctor and state police Sgt. Yuriy Bukhenik “responded to the scene” and interviewed witnesses on Jan. 29, but a spokesperson for the DA’s office later told Boston.com that Albert’s home was not among the various scenes Proctor and Bukhenik visited that day. 

Morrissey’s public statement seemingly touched a nerve with Read’s supporters, as the DA’s name appeared on at least one sign in the crowd outside the courthouse Friday. 

Jackson also took aim at Morrissey while addressing Read’s supporters after the hearing, according to the Boston Herald

“I’ll say this slowly so you can understand,” Jackson reportedly said, earning some laughs. “Michael Morrissey, we ain’t got no quit. … Ms. Read and her family will never, ever quit.”

Cannone took Read’s bail request under advisement. Also pending is prosecutors’ motion to request footage from interviews Read gave to NBC’s “Dateline” and ABC’s “Nightline.” Defense attorneys did not object to the motion, but Cannone opted to give both networks more time to weigh in.


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