A South Boston man who spent 36 years in prison for a murder he insists he didn’t commit has won another legal victory, this time before the state’s highest court.
A single justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court has rejected a request by prosecutors to reinstate the murder conviction of Frederick Weichel, who was freed on bail in April after a judge overturned his 1981 conviction and ordered a new trial.
In an 11-page decision dated July 21 and released Thursday, Associate Justice Elspeth Cypher upheld the lower court’s finding that Weichel, now 65, didn’t get a fair trial decades ago because prosecutors failed to turn over a report that implicated another suspect in the slaying of 25-year-old Robert LaMonica.
The ruling means that the Norfolk district attorney’s office must either retry Weichel for LaMonica’s murder or dismiss the charges, according to attorney Christopher Nasson, who represents Weichel.
“I’m hopeful they’ll do justice here, right the wrong that was done to Fred and dismiss the indictment against him,” Nasson said.
David Traub, a spokesman for the Norfolk district attorney’s office, said, “The office is examining the ruling but has no further comment at this time.”
Weichel, who has always maintained that he didn’t kill LaMonica, said he’s eager to move on with his life.
“As an innocent man I can only hope that this is finally dismissed,” Weichel said during a brief telephone interview Thursday. “I want to get on with my life and hopefully find housing and become a productive member of society again.”
Since he was released on bail in April after spending 36 years in prison, Weichel has been living with a friend, wearing a GPS bracelet around his ankle to monitor his whereabouts, and must abide by a curfew that requires him to be home between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.
”It’s different, everything has changed so much,” said Weichel, who was 28 when he went to prison. “I feel like a caveman just woken up after a hundred years. Everything is new and different and expensive.”
In the April decision, Superior Court Judge Raymond P. Veary Jr. wrote that the case against Weichel rested on tenuous eyewitness identification. LaMonica was shot in the parking lot outside his Braintree apartment when he arrived home after working the night shift for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.
A teenager, who had consumed four or five beers, heard gunshots and briefly saw a fleeing suspect from 180 feet away. He helped police compile a composite sketch of the suspect and later identified Weichel as the shooter.
The judge found that Weichel may have been acquitted if authorities had shared a police report with the defense before trial that indicated 10 prison guards believed the composite sketch resembled an inmate who was on furlough around the time of LaMonica’s slaying.
In affirming that decision, the Supreme Court justice wrote that the state failed to demonstrate that Veary abused his discretion in granting Weichel a new trial.
It’s a significant victory for Weichel because this was his third bid for a new trial. In 2004, a judge granted him a new trial, but then the Supreme Judicial Court reinstated the conviction.
Even gangster James “Whitey” Bulger had weighed in on Weichel’s case. In letters from prison that Weichel’s defense lawyers filed in support of their motion to overturn their client’s conviction, Bulger wrote that he knew Weichel didn’t kill LaMonica.Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.