Former Concord homeless woman Jamie Locke argues double jeopardy in high court appeal
Nearly three years after Jamie Locke was mistakenly acquitted of conspiring to murder a Concord homeless man by pitching his unconscious body into the Merrimack River, and little more than one year after she was convicted of a lesser charge in the same attack, her lawyer yesterday asked the state Supreme Court to free her on grounds of double jeopardy.
Locke, 37, was found guilty in 2012 of second-degree assault and sentenced last year to 3½ to seven years in state prison. On appeal, her defense claims the charge is nearly identical to one previously tried in court – of first-degree assault – and therefore a violation of her right against retrial for the same crime.
A jury initially acquitted Locke on the conspiracy and first-degree assault charges, but it was later learned that their foreman had misread the verdict; jurors had intended to convict her of the conspiracy count. County prosecutors pleaded for a mistrial, and later for a new trial altogether, this one on the sole count of second-degree assault. They claimed the new charge differed from the first because, where first-degree assault requires the use of a deadly weapon – in this case the Merrimack River – second-degree assault requires merely a showing of “extreme indifference to the value of human life.”
Defense attorneys have objected, saying the two criteria are “synonymous.”
“Putting somebody in the river and leaving them there at the risk of exposure and hypothermia is the same thing whether you use the words ‘deadly weapon’ or ‘extreme indifference for the value of human life,’ ” Locke’s attorney, Christopher Johnson, told the court.
At the time of the attack, in November 2009, Locke was living in a homeless encampment behind Everett Arena. The victim, Jonathan Evans, had recently moved into the camp and was suspected of having taken another man’s boots. Locke and two others beat Evans, who was highly intoxicated, and then dumped him into the river, according to court documents.
In a brief to the court, Johnson noted that in the lead-up to the second trial, “on a couple of occasions, the prosecutor made clear that the state ‘intend(ed) to present . . . the same witnesses and do exactly essentially what (it) did’ at the prior trial.”
But Justice Robert Lynn wondered whether jurors might have been able to distinguish the two.
“Couldn’t the jury have said, ‘The Merrimack River is a deadly weapon – mmm, we don’t really buy that idea,’ ” he said. “A deadly weapon has got to be something you can manipulate, that you can . . . a gun, a car, a baseball, a baseball bat. A river, though? Eh. But, given the circumstances, we can see extreme indifference.”
“I don’t think so,” Johnson said. “Both rely on the same acts of putting someone in the river and leaving them there.”
“If that theory follows,” Lynn replied, “then somebody could be charged under deadly weapon if somebody leaves someone in the Sonoran Desert.”
In her brief for the court, the state’s attorney, Stacey Coughlin, said the similarity of the evidence at trial is irrelevant, as long as they differ in some way. In this case, she wrote, extreme indifference “requires both physical assault and the act of leaving (the victim) in the river, whereas the deadly weapon element required that the injuries were caused by the river.”
(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, email@example.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)