The murder case pending against Karen Read, the Mansfield woman accused of backing her SUV into her boyfriend and leaving him for dead in Canton during a blizzard in January 2022, is slated for trial in March.
The high-profile case has been replete with controversy, conspiracy accusations, runaway speculation, and hair-raising theories that have roiled the town of roughly 24,000 residents located 20 miles south of Boston.
In November, a spirited crowd of Canton residents voted for an outside review of its police department amid allegations of corruption in the investigation into the death of Read’s boyfriend, Boston police officer John O’Keefe, who was found dead in the snow outside a Canton home on the morning of Jan. 29, 2022.
Read, 43, was arrested a few days after his body was found during a nor’easter. She was later indicted on charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter while operating under the influence of alcohol, and leaving the scene of personal injury and death. She has pleaded not guilty and is currently free on bail.
Read and her legal team, which includes attorneys Alan Jackson and David Yanetti, have maintained her innocence, claiming she’s the victim of a coordinated effort by law enforcement to protect O’Keefe’s true killers. Bolstered by the involvement of Aidan Kearney, 42, a controversial blogger known as “Turtleboy” who boasts a massive following and who’s written extensively about the case, those accusations have turned what appeared to be a standard murder prosecution into a sensation, spurring public outcry over the investigation and substantial support for Read.
The case has also prompted a separate federal grand jury investigation, led by Acting US Attorney Joshua S. Levy’s office, into the law enforcement probe of O’Keefe’s death, according to legal filings. Levy’s office hasn’t commented publicly on the federal grand jury proceedings.
There are also Facebook groups dedicated to the case with thousands of followers. A fund for Read’s legal expenses has raised more than $260,000. One group put up a billboard reading “Free Karen Read” near Gillette Stadium.
The furor prompted Norfolk District Attorney Michael W. Morrissey to speak publicly about the case as it proceeds to trial, issuing a statement in August that condemned the “absolutely baseless” harassment and vilification of witnesses. “Innuendo is not evidence. False narratives are not evidence,” he said.
In December, Morrissey said he was mystified as to why federal prosecutors and the Boston office of the FBI had taken the “extraordinary step” of conducting an inquiry into the Read case.
“They don’t have any jurisdiction over a state murder trial, so this is an extraordinary step on their part,” Morrissey said. “I’m not worried because I have the utmost confidence in what we’ve done and what people have told us.”
Read, a former equity analyst at a financial firm and adjunct professor at Bentley University, has also made her case to the public, speaking outside Norfolk Superior Court in May.
“We know who did it,” Read said. “We know who spearheaded this coverup. I was the only one trying to save his life.”
On Jan. 24, police seized two phones from Read, and a special prosecutor filed what he acknowledged was an “extraordinary” request to monitor conversations between Kearney, who is charged with intimidating witnesses in the case and with assaulting a former girlfriend, and his lawyer.
The special prosecutor, Kenneth Mello, said State Police seized Read’s phones in connection with the witness-intimidation allegations against Kearney.
“We are looking into any involvement Karen Read might have in that,” he said.
Here’s a rundown of some main points of contention in the case.
Bar-hopping, an afterparty, and the morning after
On the night of Jan. 28, 2022, Read and O’Keefe went out drinking, prosecutors said. The couple first met at C.F. McCarthy’s in Canton, where surveillance video inside the bar showed Read having seven drinks between 9 p.m. and 10:40 p.m., when they left for the Waterfall Bar and Grille. There, they met with a group that included Boston police Officer Brian Albert and his sister-in-law Jennifer McCabe, and Read drank more vodka sodas.
The evening later shifted to an after-party at Albert’s Canton home, according to court records. Read dropped O’Keefe off but decided not to go inside. After O’Keefe got out of the car, Read allegedly rammed her Lexus SUV into him around 12:45 a.m. while making a three-point turn to leave.
She drove to O’Keefe’s home in Canton and a few hours later realized that O’Keefe wasn’t there. She began frantically calling and messaging him. She reached out to two friends for help, Kerry Roberts and McCabe, saying she didn’t remember much about the night before, according to court records. McCabe told Read she saw her leaving the bar with O’Keefe and later saw them in her SUV in front of the Canton home. Roberts thought Read still seemed drunk and said Read told her “I was so drunk I don’t even remember going to your sister’s last night,” referring to McCabe’s sister, Nicole Albert, wife of Brian Albert.
“John’s dead,” Read allegedly said to Roberts. “I wonder if he is dead. It’s snowing. He got hit by a plow.”
Read first drove to McCabe’s home. When Roberts arrived shortly after 5:30 a.m., they all went to O’Keefe’s house. McCabe said Read asked her “Could I have hit him?” and “Did I hit him?”
Read showed them that the right rear taillight on her SUV was broken. When they got in the car together to search for O’Keefe, it was snowing heavily and pitch-black outside. But as they arrived in the area of the Albert home around 6 a.m., Read “immediately” spotted O’Keefe by a cluster of trees near the residence and began screaming to pull over, according to prosecutors. The other women did not see him; Roberts was unable to at first even when she got out of the car.
O’Keefe was under six inches of snow. Read lay on top of him to warm him and administered CPR.
O’Keefe was on his back, unconscious, and appeared to have suffered significant trauma. He had cuts on his face and arms. His eyes were swollen shut and blackened. The snow around him was stained with blood. Canton police officers found a broken cocktail glass near his body.
A firefighter on the scene asked Read if she knew how he had been injured.
She turned to one of her friends and said: “I hit him, I hit him, I hit him,” according to prosecutors.
Read was taken to the hospital, where her blood was drawn around 9 a.m., prosecutors said. Based on the ethanol results, her blood alcohol level was at or just below the legal driving limit, meaning it would have been between .13 and .29 percent when she dropped O’Keefe off.
She later spoke with the lead investigator, State Police Trooper Michael Proctor, and a sergeant at her parents’ home in Dighton, where police seized her SUV.
O’Keefe was pronounced dead at Good Samaritan Hospital in Brockton. The state medical examiner’s office determined that he died from multiple head injuries and hypothermia, prosecutors said.
Conflicts of interest and coverup claims
Three days after Read found O’Keefe, she was arrested.
A forensic scientist had noted damage to the rear of Read’s SUV, including a dent with chipped paint in the trunk door, a broken taillight, and scratches on the bumper, prosecutors said. What appeared to be a hair was also found. Outside the Albert home, investigators found pieces of red and clear plastic consistent with the pieces missing from the taillight. “Microscopic pieces” of plastic were also recovered on O’Keefe’s shirt, prosecutors said.
But Read’s lawyers have asserted that she was framed by law enforcement at the local and state levels and that the investigation was tainted by “personal relationships and conflicts of interests and coverups,” describing Proctor as a close family friend of the Alberts and McCabes.
The lawyers allege that after O’Keefe was dropped off he was beaten in the basement and attacked by the family dog, a German Shepherd named Chloe.
The defense says O’Keefe’s injuries are more consistent with a violent assault. In court records, they claim that O’Keefe “had been beaten severely and left for dead” and that he had “defensive wounds on his hands” and “deep scratches or bite marks” to his right arm.
During an interview with ABC’s “Nightline” in August, Read also offered a different account of events from before. She said she saw O’Keefe approach the door of the Canton home and left about 10 minutes later when she didn’t hear back from him and got tired of waiting. She denied hitting him with her car.
“It was preceded by a ‘did’ and proceeded by a question mark. What I thought could have happened was that ‘Did I incapacitate him unwittingly, somehow, and then in his drunkenness passed out?’” she said.
The dog, the broken taillight, and other evidence being debated
During the search for evidence, which officials have acknowledged may have been hampered by the blizzard, authorities found shards of red and clear plastic that prosecutors say match those missing from Read’s broken taillight. At a hearing in May, the lead prosecutor in the case, Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Adam Lally, said pieces of a cocktail glass were embedded within Read’s bumper. She had been seen leaving the bar with a cocktail glass before dropping O’Keefe off, according to prosecutors.
Read’s defense team has blasted the investigation and attempted to poke holes in the timeline of the search. In September, prosecutors said in a motion that the defense had advanced the theory that the state “broke the taillight after it seized the vehicle and planted evidence at the crime scene.”
In court records, Yanetti wrote last September that Canton police used a leaf blower to remove snow and recovered just six drops of blood. He said it was only after the SUV had been seized and the State Police conducted a second search of the area that the pieces of plastic “consistent with the taillight” were found. In a hearing in September, Yanetti again accused Proctor of mishandling evidence.
Read’s lawyers also contend that they have asked prosecutors many times to inspect certain evidence, including items of O’Keefe’s clothing and the pieces of the recovered taillight, according to a motion they filed in September. In November, a state Supreme Judicial Court justice granted the defense access to McCabe’s phone records from the day O’Keefe’s body was found but denied their requests for additional records from McCabe and Albert’s phones, saying the requests amounted to a “fishing expedition.”
Computer forensic experts for the defense have alleged that a Google search was performed on McCabe’s phone at 2:27 a.m. on Jan. 29 for “hos [sic] long to die in cold” and subsequently deleted.
That timing “establishes that individuals who were in the house at 34 Fairview that night were aware that John was dying in the snow before Karen even knew he was missing,” Read’s lawyers said in May.
Prosecutors don’t dispute the record of the search but have said the time stamp is inaccurate. During the May hearing, Lally said McCabe used Google for a search about her daughter’s basketball team just before 2:30 a.m. and later used that same tab to search for information about hypothermia at Read’s request.
Read “yelled at Ms. McCabe twice to Google, ‘How long do you have to be left outside to die from hypothermia?’” when they found O’Keefe, according to prosecutors.
But prosecutors say the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy on O’Keefe’s body found no indication of defensive wounds and did not “characterize anything as bite wounds.” The scratches, according to the examiner, were “caused by a blunt object” that “appeared to be in a linear pattern.”
In August, Morrissey said location data from O’Keefe’s phone, which was found beneath his body, showed that he never entered the Albert home. Statements from 11 people corroborated that information, Morrissey said.
“There was no fight inside that home. John O’Keefe did not enter the home,” Morrissey said. “Zero people have said that they saw him enter the home. Zero. No one.”
The ‘toxic’ relationship between Read and O’Keefe
There was no sign of tension between Read and O’Keefe at the bar, witnesses told investigators. But prosecutors say O’Keefe wanted to end their relationship.
During the “Nightline” segment, it was reported that O’Keefe and Read reconnected during the pandemic and had been together for about two years. Read said O’Keefe relied on her to take care of his niece and nephew, whom he was raising following the death of his sister and her husband, and it caused tension between them.
The children told investigators that Read and O’Keefe argued frequently — “approximately two to three times a week” — and that during a recent argument “over groceries” O’Keefe had expressed “needing a break from” Read, Lally wrote in court records. His niece told authorities that a week before her uncle’s death, she heard him tell Read that their relationship was not healthy and “had run its course.” However, Read did not want the relationship to end and “refused to leave” their house, prosecutors said.
The niece told investigators that Read “changed her story several times while speaking to Ms. McCabe on the phone, with initially the defendant stating that she and the victim got into an argument and she dropped him off,” Lally wrote.
Read also told McCabe that she and O’Keefe had “gotten into an argument” when she last saw him, Lally wrote. During her arraignment in June 2022, Lally said text messages and voicemails between the pair showed strain and “the victim’s desire to end their relationship” as well as Read’s description of it as “toxic.”
On one voicemail Read left on O’Keefe’s phone, she screamed that she hated him, Lally said.
Kearney — a.k.a. ‘Turtleboy’ — faces charges related to his coverage of the case
In April, Kearney published his first of many posts about the case, which he coined the “Canton Cover-Up,” and his coverage quickly drew a large following.
In October, he was arrested on witness intimidation and conspiracy charges. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and to the separate domestic assault count.
At a hearing on Jan. 26, Mello sparred with Kearney’s lawyer, Timothy J. Bradl, over Mello’s request to have a third party monitor conversations between Bradl and his client.
Mello said Bradl had misrepresented to jail officials that a woman named Jennifer Altman was an attorney on the defense team, which resulted in her phone number being placed on the attorney-client privilege list. That allowed her to have unmonitored conversations with Kearney in violation of jail rules.
Bradl said he inadvertently identified Altman as a lawyer. Mello said Kearney was able to continue harassing witnesses as a result of Altman being identified as an attorney.
“He’s behind bars, your honor, and he’s just as active as he was when he was in public,” Mello said, adding that the government doesn’t “concur” with Bradl’s assertion that he inadvertently identified Altman as a lawyer.
Bradl said “there’s nothing here but an honest mistake.”
“The idea that I’m doing something wrong is just so completely offensive to me, I can’t even fathom,” he said.
Judge Debra A. Squires-Lee has yet to rule on Mello’s request to monitor Kearney’s calls with Bradl, a request that some legal experts have criticized.
Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.