A Suffolk jury on Monday convicted Michael P. McCarthy of second-degree murder for the 2015 killing of 2-year-old Bella Bond, whose unidentified body washed up on shore in a trash bag, betrayed by those who were supposed to care for her.
“Finally, justice for Bella,” said Bond’s godmother, Megan Fewtrell, who shook with sobs after the jury delivered its verdict.
A second-degree murder conviction means McCarthy, who is 37, could spend the rest of his life in prison. Under state law, he would be eligible for parole after serving 15 to 25 years. He will be sentenced on Wednesday.
A jury of four men and eight women deliberated over the course of five days before reaching a decision in a case that centered on a pair of wrenching questions: Who would kill a small child and throw her body into the water? And who was the young girl?
State investigators grappled with the mystery for nearly the entire summer of 2015, after a woman walking her dog found Bella’s body on the shore of Deer Island on June 25.
For almost four months, she was dubbed “Baby Doe” as State Police tracked down hundreds of tips to determine her identity. Authorities finally learned who she was in September 2015, after Michael Sprinsky, McCarthy’s childhood friend, told them that Bella’s mother, Rachelle Bond, said it was McCarthy who killed the girl.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said Bella Bond was as much a victim of the nation’s heroin epidemic as she was of murder. Rachelle Bond and McCarthy, her boyfriend, were heroin addicts who lived with the child in the Dorchester apartment. Prosecutors asserted throughout the trial that McCarthy enabled Bond’s addiction and used it to keep her under his control in the months after Bella was killed.
“By the time of her death, every adult in Bella’s life was distracted from her care and well-being by drug addiction,” Conley said after the verdict. “Every lost life is heartbreaking and tragic. But anytime someone so young and so innocent is lost it magnifies the pain and the sorrow to awful proportions.”
Members of the jury, which included a lawyer, a scientific researcher and a genetic counselor, left the courthouse without speaking to reporters.
Rachelle Bond, 40, testified for five days against McCarthy. She accused him of fatally punching the child in the stomach in early June 2015 when the girl refused to go to sleep. McCarthy called the child a demon and said “it was her time to die,” Bond testified. He then weighed her down with barbells and dumped her in Boston Harbor.
Prosecutors charged her with acting as an accessory after the fact and agreed to recommend she be sentenced to time served and two years probation.
The resolution of the case means Bond, who has been held at Suffolk County House of Correction since State Police arrested her in September 2015, could go free as early as this week if Judge Janet Sanders agrees to the recommended sentence.
During the trial, McCarthy’s lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro asserted that Bond had killed her daughter and had framed her boyfriend. On Monday, Shapiro vowed to appeal the conviction.
“Today, there is no justice for Bella Bond,” Shapiro said. “The verdict is a travesty of justice. It sets a criminal free and sends an innocent person to prison.”
The jury form allowed for acquittal, guilty of murder in the first-degree, which carries a life sentence with no possibility of parole, second degree, and involuntary manslaughter, which has a maximum 20-year sentence.
The conviction was a hard-won victory for the prosecution, which had no physical evidence linking McCarthy to the killing. Bond lacked credibility as a witness, according to legal specialists, who said she had a clear motive for lying and whose story changed frequently.
“I’m very surprised,” by the verdict, said Michael Doolin, a Dorchester criminal defense attorney who followed the case closely. The jury “either believed her, or they thought that even if her testimony was shaky they had enough to corroborate it. Or it could be the jury was so darned upset with the set of facts that they decided to convict this guy on what would normally be considered weak evidence.”
Conley acknowledged much of the evidence that could have linked McCarthy physically to the killing was destroyed in the three weeks Bella spent in the water. But he said Bond’s testimony was supported by other key pieces of evidence, such the rusty barbells that prosecutors said came from the Quincy plumbing shop owned by McCarthy’s father, Joseph.
Shapiro declined to comment on specific appellate issues, but legal specialists speculated he would pursue a last-minute instruction Sanders gave the jury: that prosecutors did not have to prove McCarthy acted alone when he killed the toddler. Sanders said that Shapiro forced her to issue that instruction by asserting in his closing statement that the jury had to acquit McCarthy if it found that prosecutors failed to prove he acted alone.
But Edward Ryan, a veteran Fitchburg defense lawyer and former president of the Massachusetts Bar Association, said Sanders might have raised a substantial appeal issue because the prosecution had argued throughout trial that McCarthy was solely responsible for the murder.
The jury deliberated for more than four days and returned with a verdict Monday morning, less than 30 minutes after they returned to the jury room for the day.
McCarthy appeared relaxed when he walked into the courtroom and confident when the jury was called down. He shook Shapiro’s hand and smiled.
When the forewoman said “guilty,” McCarthy’s eyes widened.
“Wipe that smirk off your face,” Fewtrell snapped from the front row.
Behind her, Sprinsky and his sister Laura, who came to the courthouse every day waiting for a verdict, wept and hugged each other. Sprinsky, who has known McCarthy since they were fourth-graders, testified against his childhood friend, an account that buttressed Bond’s accusations.
“I just thank God something happened,” Sprinsky said after the verdict. “People don’t realize how close a dangerous violent man was . . . to hitting the street.”
Bond learned of the verdict by phone from her lawyer, Janice Bassil. Bond wept with gratitude, then said “I miss her so much,” Bassil said.