The state’s highest court on Tuesday reduced the first-degree murder conviction of a defendant who was 15 when he fatally shot a 22-year-old man in Boston’s South End to second-degree murder, citing factors including his cognitive impairment at the time of the crime.
Justice David A. Lowy authored the 35-page, 5-0 ruling by the Supreme Judicial Court in the case against Raymond M. Concepcion, now 23, who was convicted of first-degree murder in 2016 in the 2012 slaying of Nicholas Martinez.
“Although the defendant was fifteen years old when he shot the victim, expert testimony presented at trial suggested that he functioned at the level of someone who was nine or ten years old,” Lowy wrote. “He suffered from depression and posttraumatic stress disorder, the latter of which likely stemmed from a history of witnessing family members being shot. Testimony indicated that he was easy to manipulate. In short, if ever there was someone who could be pressured into doing others’ bidding, the defendant was that person.”
According to the ruling, Concepcion didn’t know Martinez, but both had been members of the Mission Hill gang at different points. Martinez in September 2011 had left Massachusetts “and apparently the gang,” the ruling said, before returning to Boston in June 2012.
Lowy wrote that it appears Martinez initially left Massachusetts after he “implicated a fellow member of the gang and returned in order to testify in grand jury proceedings.”
On Oct. 17, 2012, the ruling said, two adult Mission Hill gang members drove Concepcion around in a car and told him to get out and shoot Martinez when they spotted him in a vehicle on Southampton Street.
Earlier, the ruling said, gang members had told Concepcion that he could only leave the gang if he shot Martinez, and Concepcion believed that if he tried to separate himself from the crew on his own, “both he and his family would be harmed or killed.”
Concepcion approached Martinez and “fired two rounds through the driver’s side rear window at the victim,” the ruling said. “The defendant then readjusted his position and fired two to three more shots, this time straight through the driver’s side window.” Martinez was hit three times and was later pronounced dead.
The ruling, while reducing Concepcion’s conviction, doesn’t significantly alter the timeline of his parole eligibility.
Concepcion was initially sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility after 20 years because of his age at the time of the killing; defendants convicted of first-degree murder for slayings committed as adults are sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
He’ll now be resentenced for second-degree murder, which carries a life sentence with parole eligibility after 15 to 25 years, with the eligibility date set at the discretion of the sentencing judge.
“We’re pleased that the SJC held that Raymond’s unusual vulnerabilities — including his intellectual disability and the coercion by adult gang members — warranted a reduction to second-degree murder, with an earlier opportunity for parole,” said Concepcion’s appellate lawyer, Lisa Billowitz.
Prosecutors had said in court papers that given Concepcion’s “documented intellectual limitations, and that he had experienced significant trauma, a life sentence with a parole eligibility date of fifteen years, the minimum sentence which could be imposed, seems far more appropriate.”
The SJC on Tuesday rejected arguments from Concepcion that the trial judge should have instructed the jury on the lesser crime of involuntary manslaughter, as well as on duress as a defense to murder.
“The evidence here does not support an instruction on involuntary manslaughter,” Lowy wrote. “The defendant shot a firearm at the victim multiple times, firing an initial pair of rounds before changing his position and continuing to shoot.”
As for the duress argument, Lowy wrote that while Concepcion maintains he thought gang members would kill him and his family if he didn’t shoot Martinez, “duress is not a defense to murder” in Massachusetts.
“Although we have noted that allowing the defense for murders could incentivize gangs to press members to carry out killings under the threat of harm, this was of secondary importance in why we barred juries from considering the defense,” Lowy wrote.
Lowy added that the “moral math of trading the defendant’s life for the victim’s does not add up to a valid defense that the jury may consider.”
Concepcion is incarcerated at MCI-Norfolk, state records show.
The two men who drove Concepcion the day of the murder and ordered him out of the vehicle once Martinez was spotted, Jaquan Hill and Shakeem Johnson, 19 and 21 respectively at the time of the killing, both pleaded guilty to manslaughter in February 2016 and were each sentenced to 12 to 14 years in prison.
Hill remains incarcerated at MCI-Concord, while Johnson is serving his term at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, records show.
Material from prior Globe stories was used in this report. John R. Ellement and Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed.