By KATIE McLAUGHLIN
DEDHAM, Mass. (Court TV) — A Massachusetts woman accused in the death of her police officer boyfriend was back in court Friday for a motions hearing.
Karen Read, 41, is charged with second-degree murder in the January 2022 death of Boston Police Officer John O’Keefe. Prosecutors say Read backed her car into O’Keefe, leaving him to die in a snowstorm.
Read maintains she last saw O’Keefe when she dropped him off outside the Canton home of another Boston police officer, Brian Albert. O’Keefe’s body was found in a pile of snow outside Albert’s home at 34 Fairview Road.
56 pieces of evidence
Defense attorney Elizabeth Little, addressing outstanding evidence she has yet to receive, told the court that her client was arraigned a year and a half ago, yet the defense has not been able to view evidence the Commonwealth has had in its possession for 21 months.
According to Little, there are 56 items of physical evidence that the defense has not been able to inspect or test, including tail light pieces and the clothing O’Keefe was wearing when he died.
Little told Judge Beverly Cannon that the Commonwealth has been pushing back on her requests for evidence by stating that lab protocols and procedures are keeping them from accessing the evidence, and that the items were still undergoing testing. She took the opportunity to remind the Commonwealth that discovery is mandatory, and that withholding those items is in defiance of the law. She asked the court to intervene.
The defendant’s Lexus SUV
Little also requested that the defense team be granted information pertaining to Read’s Lexus infotainment system.
Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Adam Lally responded to Little on behalf of the Commonwealth. He said he has provided nearly 300 items of discovery. He recognized that there was an issue with some discovery not making its way to Little and Read, along with lab testing delays, but insisted that the Commonwealth is not withholding evidence.
Lally also laid out why gaining access to the Lexus’ infotainment information and telematics isn’t as simple as it sounds. The request, he explained, encompasses the vehicle’s ACM (airbag control module), EDR (event data recorder), and LSS (Lexus Safety System, which is specific to a Lexus).
Lally told the court that the infotainment system data is currently unreadable because Berla, which is the software that downloads infotainment information, periodically gets manufacturer updates and the data may have been compromised by one of those updates.
Little countered by arguing that there are hundreds of other types of software that can read and parse vehicle data other than Berla, and that she has an expert witness that is familiar with those programs. Little said her witness can analyze the data without destroying any evidence. Judge Cannon urged Read’s team’s expert to confer with the Commonwealth’s expert and work it out.
Another piece of evidence that came under scrutiny was the passenger side rear tail light of the defendant’s Lexus SUV. Microscopic red plastic tail light pieces were recovered from O’Keefe’s clothing. Little stated that those tail light pieces were not put into evidence until late February.
Judge Cannon ruled that all outstanding lab items that still need testing be tested by Nov. 3. She also ordered Lally to tie up any loose ends regarding lack of raw data, mapping, and documents, and to get it all in writing to her by Sept. 29.
Was it a human hair?
Lally told the judge that DNA testing the root end of a hair recovered from the rear bumper of the defendant’s vehicle was problematic because the sample size is so small, and the state police lab does not have the ability to conduct mitochondrial DNA testing.
Another one of Read’s defense attorneys, Alan Jackson, objected at this point. He said that while the Commonwealth insists the hair belongs to the victim, O’Keefe, tests conducted by defense experts concluded the hair is not even human.
The judge agreed to consider Jackson’s request that the hair be reviewed by a world-renowned lab in Chicago wherein both sides’ experts can observe the process.
Request to change conditions of release
David Yannetti, another defense attorney for Read, presented a motion requesting that Judge Cannon change the conditions of Read’s release. Yannetti, arguing that the nature and circumstances of the case have changed, asked the judge to lower Read’s bail to personal recognizance in exchange for Read surrendering her passport and signing a waiver of rendition.
Yannetti told that court that a report submitted by state police Trooper Michael Proctor stating that Fairview Road in Canton had not been plowed during the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2022 was a lie. Yannetti said the driver of the plow testified that he plowed past 34 Fairview Road at 2:30am on Jan. 29. He confirmed that there was not a body there at the time, and had there been, he would have seen it because visibility was still good — not a lot of snow had fallen yet at that point — and his plow and lights were in working order.
“The plow driver’s testimony should end this case,” said Yannetti. “To put it simply, no body at 2:30am means Karen Read is innocent. Forget about all the other evidence that points to her innocence. This one fact alone prevents the Commonwealth from ever convicting her.”
Yannetti also talked about a Ford Edge that was moved to the area where O’Keefe’s body was found in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, telling the court he believes whoever moved that car, or their accomplices, likely know who beat and killed O’Keefe.
Yannetti also questioned why the Commonwealth refused to investigate Brian Albert and his nephew, Colin Albert, who were named as suspects. It was established that Brian and Colin both drove Ford Edges.
Yannetti also pointed out that when the judge initially set bail, Her Honor was not aware that Brian Albert’s sister-in-law, Jennifer McCabe (who was at Albert’s house the night O’Keefe died) would had to have walked past O’Keefe’s body in the yard when she left.
He also told the court that at 2:27am, McCabe Googled “How long to die in cold.” She later deleted that search. The Commonwealth’s expert confirmed that Google search timestamp.
Yannetti called the microscopic pieces of tail light found on O’Keefe’s clothing a “red herring” because state police trooper Proctor — who had custody of O’Keefe’s clothing before it was sent to the lab — was untrustworthy. He went to far as to call Proctor “corrupt,” because he was an Albert family friend who kept his ties to the family friend hidden. Proctor was the state trooper who allegedly wrote in his report that the street had not been plowed when it actually had.
Yannetti pointed out that Proctor did not handle important evidence with care; and that O’Keefe’s clothing was not submitted as evidence until after Proctor had seized Read’s Lexus, thereby also seizing pieces of the tail light. Yannetti urged the judge to consider the fact that Proctor waited weeks to forward those pieces of evidence along to the lab. He suggested that Proctor sprinkled pieces of tail light into O’Keefe’s clothing.
“It’s so clear that Michael Proctor was both conflicted and corrupt,” Yannetti said as he detailed the “second family” relationship between the Proctors and the Alberts.
Gasps and shouts fell over the courtroom when Assistant District Attorney Lally took the podium again and suggested that there was no evidence to suggest that the Proctors and Alberts had a close relationship. The bailiff had to shush the gallery.
The hearing wrapped as the judge and attorneys agreed on upcoming dates for hearings: A pretrial conference report is due on Nov. 3, non-evidentiary motions must be filed by Nov. 16, a pretrial hearing was set for Dec. 8, evidentiary motions must be filed by Jan. 5, a final pretrial conference was set for Feb. 26, and trial was scheduled for March 12.