The Chelsea District Court is in turmoil this week and one Revere firearms case against an alleged career criminal is now compromised as a result of three firearms – which were evidence in criminal cases – being stolen from the Court Clerk’s office.
According to Jake Wark of Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley’s Office, last November prosecutors sent word over to the Chelsea Court to ship one of the firearms over to Superior Court in Boston as it was evidence in an upcoming case.
The response they got was unbelievable to them.
The weapon was missing, and perhaps stolen, and even maybe in the hands of criminals.
And in fact, two other firearms in separate, already tried, cases were also missing, perhaps stolen and perhaps now in criminal hands.
It was a startling revelation, and now this week the DA’s office and the court have taken some action on the matter. Wark said they believe the guns to be stolen and a State Police Detective Unit out of Conley’s Office is investigating.
“This gun was discovered missing in early November when we requested it for a routine court hearing; the others were discovered missing later,” said Wark. “I gather that Chelsea Court instituted a new policy on evidence storage after this came to light…I’m pretty sure Chelsea has some new standing orders, though, because the DA sent some of our senior prosecutors out there to insist on changes – not just because of the legal ramifications of missing evidence in our cases but also the public safety threat posed by three operable firearms in unknown, but presumably criminal, hands.”
Joan Kenney, a spokesperson for the state’s Trial Courts, did not return a request for information in time for this story.
However, what has become apparent is that the Clerk Magistrate of the Chelsea Court, Kevin Murphy – largely considered to be one of the more reliable, responsible and fair magistrates in the system, has been temporarily reassigned to Salem District Court while the investigation unfolds.
That, Kenney told other media outlets, is a very standard practice and in no way has any bearing on Murphy.
The more serious matter for the DA’s Office is the potential of losing a crucial firearm possession case against a “career criminal,” Sokhorn Sor of Beach Street, who was arrested on Shirley Avenue last July with a loaded firearm.
The major flaw in the case now is that the firearm is gone.
That case started when Revere Police allegedly observed Sor with several gang members standing around a car in Fitzhenry Square. When plain clothes officers approached, allegedly, Sor and the men dispersed in several directions, with Sor allegedly tossing a loaded Sig Sauer handgun under a parked vehicle.
Now the case might end with the mysterious disappearance of that gun from the very institution that sought to try the defendant.
“I will be filing what is called a McCarthy Motion (to dismiss the case),” said Sor’s attorney, Pamela Harris-Daley, on Monday. “It’s something that absolutely without a question will happen.”
Whether it’s successful is another story.
Wark said prosecutors believe they have case law on their side, and that might be clearer this week after a hearing in Superior Court on the case.
“We have photos of the weapon and testimony of police and criminalists who saw and tested it,” said Wark. “Defense counsel already had a chance to cross-examine the officers in district court. We also have case law that we believe will allow us to go to trial and secure a conviction without the firearm, as we have in past cases with missing or destroyed evidence. That case law comes from a 2004 SJC decision in a Suffolk County murder case (Comm. v. Dinkins) in which the murder weapon was destroyed during the multi-year span between the time the gun was recovered and the time the shooter was identified.”
At the same time, Harris-Daley countered by saying it would be nearly impossible to get a fair trial in a firearms case where there is no longer any firearm.
“I think Mr. Sor has the impossible task of being able to test the government’s evidence,” said Harris-Daley. “The Commonwealth might want to say it’s a gun, but we didn’t have a gun to test. We have seen that just because the State Police ballistician says something is a handgun, other ballisticians have determined the same weapon is not a working firearm…We have to take everything they say as a truism and that’s not a fair trial.”
She said that there are allegations of fingerprints and DNA evidence that the State Police found on the weapon, but her experts were not able to test that evidence on the gun.
“They say they have DNA evidence and most everyone would think DNA evidence is blood,” she said. “Well, DNA evidence could be dog urine. Without the ability to test it to see, we are foreclosed from determining what that DNA evidence is.”
In the case of the other two missing weapons, one of those firearms came from a case brought by the Chelsea Police Department (CPD) and the other came from another Revere Police case. Both cases surrounding those guns had been concluded, and in both cases, the defendants were acquitted of the charges, yet the guns remained at the courthouse.
The first, a SportArms Model 54 handgun, was the result of a CPD arrest that went to trial in Sept. 2009. The stolen weapon had no effect on that proceeding, Wark said.
The second, a Glock Model 22, was from a case resolved in Chelsea Court this past November and brought by Revere Police. Wark said that missing weapon also did not effect prosecution of that case.
As the investigation into the three missing weapons has gone on quietly over the past week, there has been some pushback from sources who said the DA’s Office could be at fault for not filing motions to return evidence to the police departments.
“If the motion had been filed to return the evidence to the police at the end of the trials [in two of the instances], two of the missing firearms wouldn’t have been in the Clerk’s Office, but that’s to be hammered out by the DA and the courts,” said the source.
Wark said any inference that a motion to return evidence would have prevented the problem is completely false.
“This is completely inaccurate,” said Wark. “No such motion is required in Chelsea or anywhere else for the court to return a gun or drugs or any other contraband to police. The court has custody and control of the evidence and exhibits, and I don’t see how a motion by any party would have enhanced the security policies that allowed these guns to be stolen in the first place.”
Trial Court spokesperson Kenney told media outlets that Murphy was reassigned on Jan. 18th, and that he would remain in that assignment for at least 60 days or until a full assessment of the Court is finished.