The state’s highest court has tossed out a man’s first-degree murder conviction in a July 4, 2005, slaying in New Bedford.
John Burgos had appealed his conviction in the killing of Dana Haywood.
The Supreme Judicial Court on Friday ruled that a lower court judge should have granted Burgos’s motion to suppress a secretly recorded conversation between him and a police informant.
The court ordered a new trial for Burgos.
The SJC said that the “centerpiece” of the Commonwealth’s case was a conversation recorded by a man who was Burgos’s cellmate at the Bristol County House of Correction. The man, who had reached out to authorities with an offer to “wear a wire,” elicited a confession from Burgos.
But in a 5-0 decision written by Justice Margot Botsford, the court said the recording should not have been admitted as evidence at the trial.
The court said that the state’s wiretap law generally prohibits secret recording of conversations, but there are some narrow exceptions. One would be if the Haywood murder had been committed in connection with “organized crime,” the court said.
But the court said that when police sought a warrant for the wire, they had failed to show that organized crime, as defined by the law, was involved.
The affidavit submitted by a state trooper asking for authorization of the recording “fails to show the requisite connection between the murder being investigated and ‘organized crime,’ ” the court said.
The affidavit alleged that two rival gangs were operating in New Bedford, and that Burgos was a member of one, while Haywood was a member of the other. The gangs were involved in selling drugs.
It also alleged that Haywood was murdered in retaliation for an earlier murder.
However, the court said, the affidavit did not suggest that the murder was connected to the “narcotics or any other ongoing business enterprise of either gang.”
“A retaliatory killing alone, without a clear link to the goals of a criminal enterprise, does not amount to a connection to organized crime,” the court said.Martin Finucane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.