Two men were convicted Tuesday of killing Richel Nova, a 58-year-old pizza delivery man, ending a two-week trial that included graphic testimony, gruesome photos, and a recorded confession, but did not answer why a hard-working father of three was killed for so little as pizza and some cash.
A Suffolk Superior Court jury found Alexander Gallett, 22, and Michel St. Jean, 24, guilty of first-degree murder in Nova’s death, a verdict that comes with an automatic sentence of life in prison without parole.
The evidence was strongest against Gallett, who confessed to stabbing Nova in 2010, and whose blood was found at the scene, an abandoned house in Hyde Park where the defendants lured Nova with the intention of robbing him and then stabbed him to death.
Gallett had been ready to plead guilty to first-degree murder in August and forgo a jury trial, his lawyer William White said after the verdicts were read Tuesday.
“He didn’t want to put Mr. Nova’s family through the ordeal of a trial,” White said. “From his perspective, he anticipated punishment. He wasn’t trying to get out of it. He wasn’t trying to say I didn’t do it.”
After the verdicts were read, Gallett seemed shaky, and court officers helped him out of the courtroom. St. Jean, meanwhile, appeared calm, nodding as Eduardo Masferrer, his lawyer, whispered to him.
St. Jean had tried to convinced the jury that although he was at the Hyde Park house, he did not participate in the killing. Still, the jury of seven men and five women convicted both men not just of first-degree murder, but also armed robbery and breaking and entering.
“Mr. St. Jean and his family are disappointed,” Masferrer said. “They had hoped the jury would take a different view of the evidence.”
Gallett and St. Jean are scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday morning, along with Yamiley Mathurin, 21, Gallett’s girlfriend at the time of the killing. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter, armed robbery, and breaking and entering.
The defendants’ backgrounds did not portend such violence: Mathurin was just about to start her junior year of high school; St. Jean, who had been living in Haiti, had been in Boston for only three weeks visiting family; and Gallett played high school football. None of them had ever been in trouble with the law.
“It made you scratch your head,” White said. “You have what you would probably say are three . . . normal kids who do something so stupid and dangerous that cost Mr. Nova his life.”
Suffolk prosecutors had asked the jury to find Gallett and St. Jean guilty under one or all of three legal theories: premeditated and deliberate murder; murder committed with extreme atrocity and cruelty; and felony murder,
After stabbing Nova, St. Jean and Gallett took his money, car, and the pizzas he had with him.
Juror Michael Rosenthal, a 39-year-old doctor, said that the evidence clearly showed both men were guilty of murder in the first degree under the theories of extreme atrocity and cruelty, and felony murder.
But the jury, which began deliberations before noon Monday, could not make a unanimous decision on whether the murders were premeditated, because it was unclear that the defendants were intent on killing Nova, said Rosenthal.
“It’s difficult to get into another person’s head, so that’s why we didn’t find them guilty under that theory,” Rosenthal said.
Suffolk prosecutors, who do not have to tell jurors what motivated a murder, have not described a motive for the killing beyond a desire for free food and cash.
During the trial, Nova’s twin daughters and son were often overwhelmed by the evidence. Nova’s son, Irving Lara, 26, fought back tears when he took the stand and identified a picture of his father for the jury. Even Gallett wept when Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Hickman played a video of the crime scene that showed Nova’s body sprawled on the floor.
Gallett may try to apologize to the family at sentencing, White said, but he could be too overwhelmed to say what he wants to. He hopes to talk to the Nova family or write to them, White said.
“He understands they may not want anything to do with him,” White said.
Hickman said Gallett, St. Jean, and Mathurin broke into a Hyde Park Avenue house the night of Sept. 1, 2010, and called Domino’s pizza so that they could steal from the delivery man. They ordered chicken wings, two large pizzas — sausage and pepperoni — and a Sprite.
Around 11:30 p.m., Nova, an immigrant from the Dominican Republic saving to pay for his daughters’ college tuition, showed up at the house, which was abandoned following a foreclosure.
Mathurin met Nova outside and asked him to come upstairs through the back of the house, claiming she had forgotten her wallet, according to prosecutors.
When Nova walked through the door, Gallett and St. Jean began attacking him, a brutal assault that lasted several minutes.
Nova was dragged from an enclosed porch, through the kitchen, and into a bedroom, where he died. He had been stabbed 16 times.
Neighbors who heard the struggle and saw three people leave in Nova’s car rushed to the house and found a horrific scene:
White said he persuaded Gallett not to plead guilty to first-degree murder charges because of the required life-without-parole sentence.
Before the trial started, prosecutors agreed to let Gallett plead guilty to second-degree murder, as long as he served no fewer than 40 years in prison. But the deal was contingent upon St. Jean accepting a 35-to-40-year sentence for the same charge. St. Jean initially agreed, then backed out of the deal after his family persuaded him to go to trial.
Masferrer said St. Jean did not regret rejecting the plea deal.
“When you feel like you should not be held responsible for murder,’’ you don’t plead guilty, Masferrer said. “Mr. St. Jean felt his best alternative was to go to trial.’’
In the end, the jurors found them guilty of first-degree murder, requiring the life sentence they would have avoided if St. Jean had agreed to the plea deal.
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