A Hyde Park man accused of committing murder while he was on bail and wearing a GPS monitoring device can remain free before trial because his chronic myeloid leukemia and chemotherapy treatment for the illness make him vulnerable to a coronavirus infection if he is held in jail, a Supreme Judicial Court justice ruled Tuesday.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins had argued that William Utley’s alleged criminal history — he was facing two separate charges when he allegedly stabbed Anthony Young to death on March 25, 2018 — made him such a threat to public safety that he should be jailed until trial.
Utley is charged with second-degree murder. At the time of the slaying, he was wearing a GPS device installed on him when he was released on bail for a 2016 shots-fired incident in Dorchester. Also while on bail for that incident, Utley was charged with his fifth operating under the influence offense, on Oct. 2, 2018, prosecutors said.
But Supreme Judicial Court Justice Elspeth B. Cypher disagreed with Rollins, who in other cases has fiercely advocated for the release of detainees and inmates because of the threat to their lives posed by the community spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, inside jails and prisons.
Cypher agreed with Rollins’s philosophical views on the public health risk facing detainees and inmates in correctional facilities, but disagreed with Rollins’s view that Utley should be an exception.
“Incarcerated individuals face an increased risk of COVID-19 infection,” Elspeth wrote, citing an April 3 ruling by the high court setting up procedures for release of pretrial detainees. “In addition to this recognized risk, the defendant has a severe underlying health condition that heightens his risk of infection."
“The chemotherapy medication,” she wrote, "further compromises his immune system, placing him at an even higher risk of infection.”
In a statement, Rollins said she was disappointed by the ruling, citing Utley’s “lengthy default record.”
“But more concerning is that a Suffolk County grand jury had recently returned an indictment against Mr. Utley for a murder he committed while out on $8,500 bail and GPS monitoring,” she said.
Rollins continued, “Nevertheless, the single justice agreed with the trial judge’s decision to release him, again, this time on personal recognizance ($0) with GPS monitoring.”
She mentioned that her office must now relay more bad news to the family of Anthony Young, the man who was killed in 2018.
“I will always fight for the safety of the people of Suffolk County and sincerely hope that Mr. Utley causes no further harm to our community," she said.
Cypher wrote that no detainees at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department were reported to have contracted COVID-19 as of April 10, but eight correctional officers and one other staffer had been diagnosed with the disease.
"The defendant faces a high risk of critical illness or death if he were to contract COVID-19,'' she wrote.
Moreover, Cypher wrote, the prosecution evidence against Utley for the murder is not very substantial.
"Although the charges faced by the defendant are serious and carry long sentences, the Commonwealth’s evidence against the defendant for the firearm charge and the second degree murder charge does not appear strong,'' Cypher wrote.
Utley’s defense attorney, Michael Tumposky applauded the justice’s ruling.
"Two courts have now agreed that Mr. Utley deserves the opportunity to self-isolate in a private apartment rather than risk near certain death from COVID-19 at the Nashua Street Jail,'' he said in the statement. “Notably, the SJC also recognized that the evidence against him for the two more serious charges is weak. Mr. Utley will remain focused on his health for the duration of crisis.”
Utley has been free from the Nashua Street jail since March 31 and living in Hyde Park while wearing a GPS monitoring bracelet. He is required to stay at home except for medical or court appearances under the bail order issued by Suffolk Superior Court Judge Christine Roach.
The state’s highest court ruled earlier this month that inmates awaiting trial — except those facing violent and other serious charges — may be released to help relieve the “crisis engendered by the COVID-19 epidemic.”
Since that order, 296 inmates have been released from Massachusetts county jails, according to statistics from the state.
Vernal Coleman of Globe staff contributed to this report.