A Suffolk Superior Court judge recently ordered the release of a man who’s spent more than four decades in prison on a murder conviction while she weighs his motion for a new trial in the case, according to legal filings.
In a 22-page ruling issued April 23, Judge Debra A. Squires-Lee ordered the release of Raymond Gaines, 67, who was convicted in 1975 of participating in the slaying of Roxbury shop owner Peter Sulfaro the year before during a robbery at the establishment. Gaines, though convicted of murder, wasn’t alleged to be the trigger man but had been accused of joining two other men in the heist on Dec. 10, 1974.
Squires-Lee, in her ruling freeing Gaines at least for the time being, wrote that Gaines in 2019 filed a public records request from prison for documents related to the case, which showed a co-defendant who linked Gaines to the crime had later recanted, information prosecutors should have turned over decades earlier.
There were also issues surrounding a second witness, Sulfaro’s son Paul, who was 15 and present in his father’s shop at the time of the murder.
Paul Solfaro testified at trial and was the only eyewitness placing Gaines in the shop at the time, the ruling said. But Paul Solfaro also identified two other men as the perpetrators from a photo array the day after the killing, and he testified that weeks later, police contacted him and said he’d chosen the wrong people, Squires-Lee wrote. He later identified Gaines in a second photo array.
In addition, the ruling said, Gaines asserted he had an alibi, testifying that he took a bus to Iowa on Dec. 8, 1974, and called his aunt when he arrived on Dec. 10.
A Boston police detective identified in the ruling only as Detective O’Malley had testified at trial that Gaines, while en route back to Massachusetts, made incriminating statements to authorities, including that he was at the shop during the robbery and that “the boy,” an apparent reference to Paul Solfaro, would never be able to recognize him.
However, Squires-Lee wrote, O’Malley’s involvement in the notorious Charles Stuart case, in which Stuart killed his pregnant wife in 1989 and initially told police a Black man was the assailant, raises questions about O’Malley’s testimony at Gaines’s trial.
Federal authorities concluded O’Malley, who died in 2017, and other investigators engaged in misconduct during the Stuart case by pressuring and forcing witnesses to give false testimony, the ruling said. Squires-Lee wrote that “from the outset” a co-defendant had claimed police threatened him into providing a “coerced confession and accusation against Gaines,” and O’Malley was involved in that particular interview.
A Boston police spokesman said Tuesday that the department was reviewing the ruling along with the Suffolk district attorney’s office. Neither a lawyer for Gaines nor a spokesman for District Attorney Rachael Rollins immediately responded to emails seeking comment.
The next hearing in Gaines’s case is slated for July 27.
“The question before me is not whether Gaines’s Motion for New Trial should or will be allowed,” Squires-Lee wrote, adding that the “ultimate issue is whether there was a risk that justice was not done. Such a risk exists.”