Prosecutors release letters to federal authorities in Karen Read case

Posted at 10:12 PM, January 23, 2024 and last updated 10:16 AM, January 24, 2024

DEDHAM, Mass. (Court TV) — Prosecutors in the Karen Read case withdrew a request to seal correspondence between their office and federal authorities and released the eight letters themselves, saying they reversed course to prevent Read’s lawyers from making any more false statements about the nature of the letters or a federal probe referenced therein.

karen read appears in court

Karen Read, accused in the death of police officer John O’Keefe, appears in court Friday, Jan. 15. 2024. (Court TV)

The letters indicate that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts conducted an investigation in 2023 that involved witnesses from Read’s case, but they do not explicitly say who or what the investigation was about. The current status of the federal investigation is not clear from the letters, which span from April to November 2023.

The letters reveal that Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey was concerned that the federal investigation might interfere with his office’s prosecution of Read for the death of her boyfriend, Boston Police Officer John O’Keefe, and constitute an abuse of prosecutorial discretion. In a letter dated May 18, 2023, Morrisey asked the Department of Justice to transfer the investigation to another office based on his belief that the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office was being “weaponized” for “personal, political and retributive purposes” against his office – possibly, because of an employment dispute.

Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Adam Lally attached the letters to a motion to withdraw the Commonwealth’s request for a protective order for the letters. The U.S. Attorney’s Office also consented to the public disclosure of the letters, Lally said.

“To prevent further attempts by the defendant to mischaracterize the Commonwealth’s correspondence as an attempt to materially prejudice the Commonwealth and threaten the integrity of the judicial system as a whole, the Commonwealth respectfully moves to withdraw its previous motion for a protective order and let the correspondence speak for itself.”

In a hearing last Thursday, Read’s attorney, David Yanetti, said the defense learned in a conference call that Morrissey had become a target of a federal investigation for his prosecution of Read. Yanetti said he intended to use the content of the letters to litigate its Motion for Sanctions and Disqualification of the Norfolk DA’s office.

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Yanetti’s claims prompted swift repudiations from the Norfolk District Attorney and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“In connection with this matter, at no time has the U.S. Attorney’s Office named any person or entity as a target of an investigation, to anyone,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

State prosecutors also responded with a statement that read, “No part of the communication with the office of the United States Attorney yesterday, or at any point, has indicated that the Norfolk District Attorney or any member of the office is a target of the federal investigation. Mr. Yanetti misrepresented that completely.”

The letters reveal that Morrisey and his staff were pressing the feds for information gleaned from their investigation in early 2023.

In his May 18 letter to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Professional Responsibility, Morrissey said his office found out that the FBI contacted state grand jury witnesses, who also received subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury. Then, Joshua Levy, first assistant in the U.S. Attorney’s Boston office, contacted Morrissey’s office to say they were conducting an investigation that may involve witnesses in the state’s case.

Morrissey said in the letter that his deputy, Lynn Beland, told Levy that ethical obligations may require the state prosecutors to provide Read’s defense with information gathered in the federal investigation. “You can’t turn over information you don’t have,” Levy allegedly responded.

Morrissey speculated in the letter that Read’s defense might have initiated the complaint that triggered the federal prosecution, but suggested other factors may have been at play.

 “It appears to be unprecedented for the federal government to step into the middle of an ongoing state murder prosecution prompted only by inflammatory and ethically dubious defense strategy,” Morrissey wrote. “It raises the question why the apparatus of the DOJ would intervene… without some additional impetus on the part of the United States Attorney’s Office.”

Morrissey speculated that the probe might stem from former U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins’ animosity toward him and pointed to a DOJ report that faulted Rollins for ethical violations. Or, he surmised that it could be personal retaliation from an assistant U.S. attorney whose wife resigned from Morrissey’s office on bad terms.

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“These DOJ findings and questions reinforce my belief that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts must be removed from whatever investigation is being conducted into the Read matter,” Morrissey wrote.

The Office of Professional Responsibility sent Morrissey’s request to transfer the investigation to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys. Morrissey’s deputy, Lynn Beland, sent a follow-up letter to the department in June 2023 to check on the status of the request. That letter, along with two others Beland sent to Levy requesting discovery in the federal probe, were among the correspondence released by the Norfolk District Attorney’s Office.

Jay Macklin, general counsel for the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, responded to Beland in August 2023 and notified her that his office found no basis for recusal.

Macklin wrote that the Massachusetts office “has a very different opinion of the circumstances in this case” than those Morrissey presented in his letter. The office had not reached any official determination on whether prosecution was warranted, Macklin said, “but they believe it is essential to continue their investigation given the information of which they are aware.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for information on the status of their investigation.