BOSTON -- The state's highest court has overturned a lower court ruling, slamming the cell door shut on a former Fitchburg man convicted of the 2001 brutal slaying and incineration of a 29-year-old Townsend man.
More than a year after the state Appeals Court overturned the murder conviction of Matthew Lavoie, the state Supreme Judicial Court on Friday overruled that decision and ordered Lavoie's 2003 second-degree murder conviction and life sentence reinstated.
In October 2011, the Appeals Court overturned Lavoie's conviction in the fatal shooting of Westley VaanAnen of Townsend on March 7, 2001. Defense attorney Leslie O'Brien, representing Lavoie, argued before the SJC in September that Lavoie should get a new trial because Lavoie's family was prohibited from watching jury selection in December 2003 and that his trial attorney didn't have the right to waive his client's right to a public trial.
Attorney Kevin Mahoney, who represented Lavoie at trial, explained he preferred not to have the family inside the courtroom during jury selection because he considered the family, especially Lavoie's emotional mother, a "distraction."
The Middlesex District Attorney's Office argued against a new trial, saying Mahoney made a "reasonable tactical decision ... the defendant must be deemed to have acquiesced in any closure of the courtroom."
The SJC agreed.
Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote, "We conclude that counsel may waive a defendant's right to
In the March 2001 murder, VaanAnen was shot three times -- twice in the chest and once in the head -- as he slept in his home at 4 Sumac Drive in Townsend after a night of partying with Lavoie and VaanAnen's roommates, Kevin Fuller and Fuller's girlfriend, Samantha Litalien.
Prosecutor Christopher Walsh told the jury VaanAnen may have been killed for a wad of cash and a quarter kilogram of cocaine worth an estimated $3,200.
After VaanAnen was killed, Lavoie, Fuller and Litalien wrapped his body and partied while deciding how to dispose of him.
Lavoie confessed to police that he and Fuller put the body in the back of Fuller's Jeep and drove it to Caswell Road, a dead-end street in Fitchburg, where they dumped the body, poured gasoline on it and set it on fire.
Back on Sumac Drive, the trio resumed the party of drugs and booze while they stripped VaanAnen's room of his clothes, furniture and even the blood-stained rug, prosecutors said.
VaanAnen's charred remains were found March 8, 2001, about 5 a.m., by a Caswell Road resident. VaanAnen could be identified only by a single fingerprint.
The murder might have gone unsolved if not for some unusual tire tracks left in the snow that were traced to a Jeep Cherokee and led police to Sumac Drive, prosecutors said.
In 2004, Fuller, then 30, and Litalien, 23, both of Townsend, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and illegal possession of a firearm. Fuller was sentenced to 15 to 18 years in state prison, while Litalien received a sentence of 10 to 12 years.
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