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Entwistle attorney: Illegal searches led to murder conviction

Court officers escorted Neil Entwistle (center) into the courtroom during his murder trial In this June 19, 2008, file photo.

CJ Gunther/AP/File 2008

Court officers escorted Neil Entwistle (center) into the courtroom during his murder trial In this June 19, 2008, file photo.

Neil Entwistle was convicted of murdering his wife and daughter by a jury that was not impartial, and he is serving a life sentence based on evidence that Hopkinton police should never have collected from the couple’s home, Entwistle’s lawyer told the Supreme Judicial Court Friday.

In a domestic violence case that drew international media attention, Entwistle, a British citizen, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder in Middlesex Superior Court in 2008 for killing his wife, Rachel, and their 9-month-old daughter, Lillian, in their rented Hopkinton home. Both victims were shot to death.

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Entwistle is serving life without parole; his trial is being reviewed by the Supreme Judicial Court, the state’s highest court, which can uphold his conviction or order a new trial.

Under state law, the SJC automatically reviews all first-degree murder convictions.

During oral arguments Friday, Entwistle’s appellate attorney, Stephen Paul Maidman, told the justices that Hopkinton police conducted two illegal searches of the couple’s rented home and that the evidence eventually used at trial against the Englishman, should be thrown out.

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At the request of friends and Rachel Entwistle’s family who had not heard from her, police twice searched the home, 24 hours apart; they discovered the murder victims during the second search lying together in a bed, hidden underneath blankets.

Maidman said police needed to get a search warrant before they entered the home the second time.

“Police should have obtained a search warrant,’’ Maidman said of the second search. “They could have tried.’’

But Justice Robert Cordy sharply questioned Maidman’s legal reasoning.

“Two people are missing,’’ he said. “A baby is missing. What’s not an emergency about that? They are missing longer. . . . They need to be found. There might be evidence in the house.’’

Maidman was subjected to similar skepticism from other justices. He acknowledged that the murders would inevitably have been discovered, especially by the victims’ relatives who were waiting outside when police conducted the second search.

But Maidman warned that if the SJC supports the police, they will be freeing up police to enter homes in violation of the Fourth Amendment ban on unreasonable searches of a citizen’s home.

“We are talking about constitutional boundaries, the most sacrosanct constitutional boundaries,’’ he said. “This court has to very carefully consider if they want to lower’’ hurdles that police must clear before they can enter a home.

Maidman also said that jurors were not questioned intensively as they should have been about whether they were influenced by the massive pretrial publicity in the case.

After the shootings, Entwistle fled to his native England, triggering news coverage in both countries.

But Middlesex Assistant District Attorney Casey E. Silvia told the SJC that the jury was properly vetted by Superior Court Judge Diane Kottmyer.

Silvia also said that all of the evidence used against Entwistle was properly obtained and that police acted properly when they entered the Hopkinton home.

“When the police entered the Entwistle home Jan. 21, 2006, and again on Jan. 22, 2006, they were acting well within their role as community caretakers,’’ Silvia said.

She said the fact that the child was missing on both dates strengthens the propriety of the searches and strengthens the legality of the second search that was more sweeping than the first.

“It was objectively reasonable to believe that there could still be persons inside that home who were either dead or dying, were in need of assistance,’’ she said, “especially when you are talking about a 9-month-old child who is missing.’’

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.
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