⚖️ #wrongfulconvictions pic.twitter.com/qcx56fZtLu— John Nardizzi (@AuthorPI) May 31, 2019
Breaking news Worcester Superior Court - After getting hit on a DNA sample from 1979 murder case, motion for new trial filed today. Evidence excluded client Gary Cifizzari - and matched profile of known felon. Great to be part of the @NEInnocence team!
Jury rejects murder charge, finds teen guilty of manslaughter Jury rejects murder charge, finds teen guilty of manslaughter Jury rejects murder and finds manslaughter charge
Lowell teenager Billeoum Phan, now 16, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter for the shooting death of Samnang Oth, 21, of Chelsea. Phan was the one of the youngest defendants ever in Massachusetts to face a murder charge.
According to police reports, at approximately 11:18 p.m. on August 12, 2006, Lowell Police responded to 40 Royal Street in Lowell for reports of shots fired.
Although the initial investigation determined that a gang-related fight broke out at a birthday party at the Royal Street residence, the defense investigation showed that the police failed to interview dozens of witnesses. Moreover, several witnesses were called by Phan to testify to the terrifying specter of rocks and bottles raining into the first floor apartment, where several young women, including one pregnant woman, sought shelter. The defense argued that Phan was acting in self-defense when he fired the gun and hit Oth.
Defense counsel Jack Cunha represented Phan, with John Nardizzi leading the defense investigation.
The judge sentenced Phan to DYS custody until the age of 21 for the voluntary manslaughter conviction. Then Phan will have have a suspended five-year state-prison sentence and probation after his release.
The defense investigation focused on the role of Kimani Washington, a career criminal whose story about participating in the armed robbery but leaving the scene before the murders, never made sense to most court observers. Eyewitness accounts described a silver/gray SUV with blue license plate driven by a bald headed man racing from the scene -- a match to Kimani and a Ford Edge he stole from a victim. Moreover, Kimani’s story changed repeatedly. Evidence showed he held a grudge against his cousin Edward Washington and had slashed his face with a cane--a stark contrast to his description of their relationship as “beautiful”. Defense lawyers Jack Cunha and Helen Holcomb were able to use the evidence to thoroughly impeach Kimani at trial. They also pointed to mistakes such as the Boston Police arresting Kimani just a few hours after the murders, holding keys to a silver SUV--but incredibly, failing to test him for gunpowder residue. Photos of the SUV were taken by some of the police-controlled security cameras dotting Mattapan, but they were not preserved by police.
Kimani later fled to New Hampshire where he was arrested. This case illustrated most graphically the problem with rewarding a cooperating witness of Kimani’s ilk with a deal that cut decades off a prison sentence for murder, if he had faced a jury.