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Altercation at drug deal led to killing, prosecutors say

Victim said to be invited as backup

Defense lawyer Robert Saltzman (left) represents Jessie Williams, a defendant in the killing of Joseph Puopolo.

JESSICA RINALDI FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Defense lawyer Robert Saltzman (left) represents Jessie Williams, a defendant in the killing of Joseph Puopolo.

WOBURN — The two men accused of killing a 27-year-old US Army veteran opened fire after their scheme to rip off a drug dealer fell apart inside a Stoneham home, a prosecutor said Monday.

Jessie Williams, 24, of Medford, and Eugene Tate, 19, of Malden were arraigned Monday in Woburn District Court, where they both pleaded not guilty to murder, armed robbery, and three other charges.

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Judge Timothy H. Gailey ordered the men held without bail.

Police found Joseph Puopolo Jr. Wednesday with gunshot wounds to his chest and wrist in the home on Micah’s Pond Way. He was later pronounced dead.

In court, Assistant Middlesex District Attorney Thomas O’Reilly described the events that allegedly led to the killing of Puopolo, who had served in Afghanistan before leaving the Army about a year ago.

O’Reilly said that late on July 2, Williams and Tate were involved in negotiations with an alleged dealer to purchase a pound of marijuana, but talks collapsed when the parties could not agree on terms.

At that point, an unidentified middleman stepped in, and an agreement was reached between Williams, Tate, and the 28-year-old alleged dealer, whose name has not been made public, O’Reilly said.

The alleged dealer was not at the same location with the other men at that time.

Soon after, at around 12:15 a.m. on July 3, Williams, Tate, the middleman, and an unidentified man went to the home where the dealer was located, on Micah’s Pond Way. They were to complete the deal for the pound of marijuana, which is often sold for about $3,500, O’Reilly said.

Puopolo was not the middleman or the unidentified man who accompanied Williams and Tate.

Concerned about his safety, the alleged drug dealer had called Puopolo and asked him to come over to the house.

His relationship to any of the men was not clear.

But after the men arrived, something went wrong.

Williams and Tate allegedly offered the dealer $700 in cash and went to the house with “the express purpose of ripping them off,” O’Reilly said.

“The 28-year-old victim asked Puopolo to come to the home because he was concerned the proposed deal may be a drug rip-off,” the district attorney’s office said in a statement.

After a brief altercation in the garage, Williams and Tate allegedly “drew handguns, demanded drugs and money, and then shot Puopolo and the 28-year-old victim,” the district attorney’s office said.

The shooting survivor is in stable condition at Massachusetts General Hospital, prosecutors said.

It was not clear who lived at the house on Micah’s Pond Way.

O’Reilly said Williams described the circumstances of the shooting following his arrest in East Boston Sunday. Tate surrendered to Stoneham police Sunday evening.

Investigators linked Williams and Tate to the slaying through fingerprints found in the middleman’s car, as well as a cigarette butt Williams discarded outside the Stoneham home, O’Reilly said. The alleged dealer identified Tate “100 percent" as the man who shot Puopolo, the prosecutor said.

Tate’s attorney, Moya R. Gibson, said her client has no criminal record and is enrolled at the New England Tractor Trailer Training School.

She said Tate graduated from Malden High School, where he played sports and took part in other extracurricular activities.

Gibson also questioned the credibility of Williams and the alleged marijuana dealer, who identified Tate to authorities as one of the killers, pointing out that Williams has a criminal record and the other man was selling a large quantity of marijuana.

Williams was represented by attorney Stanley W. Norkunas.

Both defense attorneys asked that their clients not be shown in court. The men are expected back in court on Aug. 12.

Colin A. Young can be reached at colin.young@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ColinAYoung.
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