FALL RIVER -- A judge ruled Monday that a South Boston man who says he was wrongly convicted of murder 33 years ago, and who offered letters of support from James “Whitey” Bulger, is entitled to present evidence and call witnesses at a hearing to investigate his claim.
Superior Court Judge Raymond P. Veary Jr. said defense lawyers raised serious questions about whether a recently discovered police report should have been turned over by prosecutors during the trial of Fred Weichel, who was convicted decades ago of the 1980 slaying of 25-year-old Robert LaMonica in Braintree.
“I want this matter to move forward,” said Veary, ordering an in-depth evidentiary hearing into whether the Braintree police report that suggested someone else killed LaMonica was authentic and was improperly withheld from Weichel’s lawyers. A date has yet to be set.
“I see this as a full-throttle effort and a justifiable effort by the defendant to revisit his conviction,” Veary said during the conference with defense lawyers and prosecutors at Bristol Superior Court.
Weichel, 62, who remains incarcerated, did not attend the hearing. However, a group of Weichel’s supporters and several of LaMonica’s relatives, including his mother Marie, sat solemnly in the spectator section.
Weichel’s lawyers previously submitted letters to the court Bulger in a bid to support Weichel’s motion, but the gangster’s name was never mentioned during Monday’s hearing.In a series of letters sent from jail last fall, Bulger wrote that he played an indirect role in LaMonica’s slaying and the real killer was an unnamed close friend of Weichel.
The 84-year-old gangster, who is serving two life sentences for participating in 11 murders, wrote that a young boxer who was Weichel’s “pal” confided to him in 1980 that he was scared because he had badly beaten a man in a street fight and the victim’s friend, LaMonica, was vowing revenge.
“He wanted my advice,” wrote Bulger. “ ‘What would I do?’ I told him, get him first, kill him. . . . If you don’t get him first I’d say he will get you — he’s dangerous — so again kill him and it’s over.”
Bulger, who wrote the letters to a Weichel supporter, would not identify Weichel’s friend.
Attorney Michael D. Ricciuti, who is representing Weichel for free with assistance from the New England Innocence Project, said Bulger is not expected to testify on Weichel’s behalf. He said Bulger’s lawyer told him that Bulger will not provide a statement under oath in Weichel’s case.
LaMonica, who worked at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, was gunned down outside his Braintree apartment shortly after midnight on May 31, 1980.
A teenager who heard the shots and saw a man flee and jump into a waiting car helped police create a composite sketch of the suspect. He picked Weichel’s mugshot from a photo array as “a pretty good likeness.” Later, while driving around South Boston with police and LaMonica’s two brothers, the teen identified Weichel on a street corner as the suspect.
The defense asserts that the prosecution failed to turn over a police report during Weichel’s 1981 trial that suggested another man, Rocco Balliro, may have killed LaMonica.
The report indicated that correction officers told police the composite sketch of the suspect looked like Balliro, who had been released from prison on furlough the day before LaMonica’s slaying. Balliro died in 2012.
Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Marguerite T. Grant, who opposed Weichel’s motion for a new trial, challenged the authenticity of the police report and said it appeared to be an unrelated document that was mistakenly placed in the Weichel case file.
Marie LaMonica, who remains convinced that Weichel killed her son, declined to comment on the case Monday.
Ricciuti said he’s thrilled that Weichel will get a chance to prove he was wrongly convicted.
“He’s entitled to be released,” Ricciuti said. “We’re going to prove that to the judge.”
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