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SJC upholds rape and murder conviction of man charged in death of 19-year-old woman

The state’s highest court Monday upheld the murder and aggravated rape conviction of a New Hampshire man for a 1987 homicide in Boston, using the decision to change how juries are allowed to view women victimized because of their gender.

The Supreme Judicial Court unanimously ruled that James Paige was properly sentenced to life in prison without parole for raping 19-year-old Dora Brimage, whose battered body was found 34 years ago near a Dorchester construction site where Paige was working.

The murder went unsolved until 2016, when investigators linked Paige’s DNA to forensic evidence recovered from Brimage’s body. He was convicted of first-degree murder and aggravated rape in Suffolk Superior Court.

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In upholding Paige’s conviction, the court amended the rules in place since a 2015 SJC ruling that required prosecutors to prove that a woman did not consent to having sex with the man accused of killing her.

Now, prosecutors will not have to reach that burden of proof; it will be legally assumed, the court held.

“We now conclude ... that where there is evidence that the defendant severely injured and killed the victim proximate to having sex with the victim, the jury may infer that the victim did not consent to the sexual intercourse,” Justice David Lowy wrote for the court.

Justice Elspeth B. Cypher issued a concurring opinion to “address the continuing epidemic of violence against women, including femicide.”

“Femicide is the intentional killing of a woman because she is a woman.’’ Cypher wrote. “Because the victims of femicide are targeted based on their sex, femicide may be understood as a type of hate crime. Femicide also exists on a continuum of sexual violence, including sex trafficking, rape, aggravated rape, and sexual harassment ... I believe it is appropriate to refer to her killing as a femicide.”

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The violence of “these offenses serves to terrorize the victims and, thus, to subjugate women as a group,” she added. “As such, hate crimes exact a greater toll on society and women, both individually and as a group, than isolated incidents of violence.”

Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc., an anti-domestic violence group, applauded the court’s ruling and for introducing the concept of “femicide” into the state court system.

“Incidents of sexual violence, they often happen in private,’’ Troop said. “Even when there’s not a homicide, the only people who were there are the person who experienced harm and the person who caused it. So it sends a really important message generally about consent and how important it is for people to think about what consent is.”

In her concurring opinion, Cypher said that despite progress, “vestiges remain of the common law’s subordination of women.”

“While men no longer legally may abuse and rape their wives, women may be blamed for the violence inflicted upon them,” she wrote.

A man who kills a woman can claim he acted in the heat of passion if the woman discloses she has had an adulterous relationship, Cypher wrote. This doctrine implies that by committing adultery, the victim is partly to blame for the violence committed against her, she wrote.

Another vestige, Cypher noted, is the presumption that a woman engaged in prostitution cannot be a victim of a sex crime.

Jeremiah Manion of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

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John R. Ellement can be reached at john.ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.