State Supreme Court upholds millionaire John Brooks’s capital murder convictions
In an unanimous ruling, the state Supreme Court upheld the capital murder convictions yesterday of a former Derry millionaire serving two life sentences for the beating death of his mover in 2005.
John Brooks, 60, was convicted in 2008 of two counts of capital murder – one for hiring men to kill Jack Reid Sr. of Derry and a second for arranging Reid’s murder during a kidnapping. But jurors spared Brooks the death penalty and instead sentenced him to life in prison without parole.
Brooks’s son, Jesse, and his three other co-defendants were convicted on murder charges in connection with Reid’s death.
On appeal, Brooks’s attorneys argued that then-trial Judge Robert Lynn erred in admitting certain evidence and when instructing the jury. Lynn is now a state Supreme Court justice and did not hear Brooks’s appeal.
Brooks’s defense lawyers, who included Concord attorney Chris Carter, declined to say yesterday whether they will ask the court to reconsider its ruling or appeal the verdict further. “We are very disappointed by the decision and are reviewing our options,” said Boston attorney Martin Murphy, who is on the defense team.
The defense argued six points in their appeal:
The court, they said, should not have allowed the state to “authenticate” bank, travel, telephone and insurance records central to the case with affidavits from the record keepers. The defense argued the court should have required the record keepers to appear in court so they could be cross-examined.
The court disagreed because the records were not “testimonial” and because the rules of evidence allow such business records to be verified in court by affidavits.
The defense also challenged the testimony of an FBI agent who spoke to Brooks prior to Reid’s murder about his belief that Reid had stolen from him. The agent testified that she found Brooks’s story “peculiar and kind of odd” and said it didn’t have the “full ring of truth to it.
The justices agreed that the agent should not have been allowed to offer her opinion on the veracity of Brooks’s story but concluded the error was “harmless” and not justification for overturning the verdicts. “The overwhelming nature of the alternative evidence of the defendant’s guilt” was enough to support the verdicts, the court said.
The defense disputed the testimony of a medical examiner they said offered a new opinion on the stand. The justices found that his testimony had not prejudiced the defense’s case.
Brooks’s attorney also argued the convictions should be overturned because Brooks himself did not gain financially from Reid’s murder. The court ruled that under the murder for hire statute, it was enough that Brooks’s hired men benefited financially.
Lastly the defense said the state needed to prove Brooks had Reid kidnapped to commit a crime other than murder. The justices disagreed and noted that state sufficiently proved that Brooks wanted to “terrorize” Reid, which is an element in the law.
Senior Assistant Attorney General Janice Rundles, who helped prosecute Brooks for the state, said yesterday her office felt confident in its case. But the challenge concerning how business records can be admitted into trial was a new one for this court, she said.
These “confrontation issues” have been a quickly developing area of law around the country ever since the United State Supreme Court changed the test for the confrontation clause, she said.
The court ruled that some records require a witness to appear for cross-examination by the other side, Rundles said. It also created a category of records that can come in by affidavit alone as long as they are not “testimonial” in nature. The state Supreme Court concluded the records in this case were business records and affidavits were sufficient to verify that they were true records.
“We were confident, but we were certainly waiting for the opinion because it’s an important issue,” Rundles said.
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)