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Mother sues Harvard in son’s shooting

Denise Cosby, mother of the manslaughter victim, Justin Cosby.Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe

The mother of a Cambridge man fatally shot inside a Harvard University residence hall in 2009 is suing the school and its officials, alleging that Harvard negligently allowed the mastermind of the killing to operate a “criminal enterprise’’ in the dormitory that resulted in the killing.

Denise Cosby filed the wrongful death suit in Middlesex Superior Court last week, saying that the university and its officials failed to protect her son, ­Justin Cosby, 21.

He was shot inside Kirkland Hall May 18, 2009, when a drug rip-0ff turned violent.

In a joint phone interview Wednesday, Denise Cosby’s attorneys, Issac H. Peres and Dennis A. Benzan, said that Cosby believes her son would be alive today if the school had followed its written policies and kept track of the people living in its dorms.


“She feels that it’s the university’s fault,’’ Peres said. “But for their negligence in allowing this murderer to live and operate a criminal enterprise on campus, her son would be alive today.’’

Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin said, “We recognize that the Cosby family has suffered a heart-rending loss, but there is no basis in law or fact to hold the university accountable for Justin ­Cosby’s death.”

Cosby “entered Harvard property that day for the sole purpose of selling a large quantity of marijuana to people unaffiliated with the University, and one of them shot him,’’ Galvin said in a statement. “We will vigorously defend against this lawsuit.’’

The alleged mastermind of the drug robbery, Jabrai Jordan Copney, was convicted in Middlesex Superior Court in April 2011 of first-degree murder after his two codefendants, one of whom took the stand against Copney, cut deals with prosecutors. Copney is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.

According to the lawsuit and to testimony at his murder trial, Copney was romantically involved with Brittany Smith, a Lowell House resident who let Copney live with her and also let him use her Harvard identification card to enter university buildings.


At the same time, the lawsuit alleges that if the school contends that it did not know that Copney was living in its facilities, the school is still liable, because it should have known he was there.

According to the lawsuit, other evidence of Copney’s “criminal enterprise” dates to 2008, when he met a Yale University student at a party in Lowell House and arranged to buy 3 pounds of marijuana from him. Copney and his associates later robbed the Yale student in New York City, the suit says.

On the date of Cosby’s killing, Copney and his two codefendants used Smith’s card to gain entry to Kirkland Hall.

Inside, Cosby was confronted by the three men, but refused to hand over his cash and marijuana and was fatally shot.

“Cosby was lured onto and murdered on Harvard’s property as a direct result of Copney’s criminal enterprise,’’ the lawsuit asserts.

After the shooting, the men returned to Smith’s room in Lowell House, where she stashed the murder weapon in the bedroom of another student before fleeing with the men to New York City.

In 2011, Smith pleaded guilty to charges of being an accessory after the fact of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, illegal possession of a firearm, willfully misleading a grand jury, and willfully misleading a police officer.


She was sentenced to three years and one day in prison.

In addition to the university, Denise Cosby is suing three Harvard officials: Diana L. Eck, master of Lowell House; Dorothy Austin, a master of Lowell House; and Ryan M. ­Spoering, former dean of Lowell House.

John R. Ellement can
be reached at