Michael P. McCarthy was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison Wednesday for the killing of 2-year-old Bella Bond, despite angry pleas from his lawyer, who insisted an innocent man was going to prison.
“If there had been justice in this courtroom, Mr. McCarthy would be sitting in the gallery watching Rachelle Bond being sentenced for her crime,” McCarthy’s lawyer, Jonathan Shapiro, said in reference to Bella Bond’s mother, who he had asserted was the true killer. “There was no justice for Mr. McCarthy here.”
Shapiro’s statements, which Suffolk’s top prosecutor later dismissed as “bombastic,” underscored the animosity that surfaced throughout the trial. McCarthy’s defense team was particularly upset when the judge instructed the jury that prosecutors did not have to prove McCarthy was solely responsible for the child’s murder.
Suffolk Superior Court Judge Janet L. Sanders defended the four-week trial, saying that prosecutors were professional and that McCarthy received “exceptional” representation from Shapiro.
“It was a very fair trial,” Sanders said before she sentenced McCarthy. “And although I don’t believe I made any legal errors, there is an appellate court . . . that will make sure that I didn’t.”
Shapiro has said he will appeal McCarthy’s conviction for second-degree murder, which a jury handed down Monday.
McCarthy, 37, was found guilty of killing the toddler, whose remains were found stuffed into a trash bag that washed ashore on Deer Island June 25, 2015. Sanders cited the “vulnerability of the victim,” the circumstances around her death, and his efforts to cover up the killing as she sentenced McCarthy to serve 20 years behind bars before he becomes eligible for parole.
Rachelle Bond, who was McCarthy’s girlfriend at the time, testified that McCarthy fatally punched the child in the stomach sometime in early June 2015 after the child refused to go to sleep.
Before sentencing, Assistant District Attorney David Deakin asked Sanders to impose a 25-year sentence, the maximum an inmate can serve for second-degree murder before becoming eligible for parole. Deakin said the tough sentence was justified by the age of the child, who was just two months shy of her third birthday, and McCarthy’s role as her caretaker.
“He was trusted to be with her and trusted with her safety,” Deakin said.
Shapiro denounced the prosecutor’s request for a maximum sentence as “vindictive, cynical, and completely disingenuous” and asked that Sanders set parole eligibility for McCarthy at 15 years, the minimum under state law.
Deakin “is asking for the most serious penalty for a crime about which we know next to nothing,” Shapiro said. “We don’t know when it happened. We don’t know how it happened.”
The medical examiner said Bella Bond likely died of asphyxiation or a blow to the chest, but could not confirm Rachelle Bond’s account.
Shapiro said that Deakin had argued during the trial that McCarthy acted alone, but at the end appeared to shift course and implicate Bond, a strategy that allowed jurors to convict McCarthy even if they believed Bond played a larger role in the crime.
“He was perfectly happy to let the jury convict on the basis of some unsupported assumptions that Rachelle Bond had participated in the crime,” Shapiro said.
At the end of the trial, Deakin asked Sanders to instruct the jury that prosecutors did not have to prove McCarthy was solely responsible for the child’s murder.
Sanders agreed to the request, saying Shapiro had forced her to do so when he urged jurors to acquit McCarthy if they found that prosecutors had not proved he acted alone.
After the tense hearing, Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley praised Deakin as fair and ethical.
“Jonathan Shapiro ought to be ashamed of himself, quite frankly, for accusing a man of that quality, of that stature, of that level of character the way he did,” Conley said.
In court Wednesday, Shapiro asked Sanders to let McCarthy remain temporarily at Suffolk County House of Correction, where he has been held in protective custody.
Shapiro said he wanted time to arrange for safe conditions in the prison system, noting the notoriety of the crime and the age of the victim, two factors that can make an inmate more vulnerable to abuse.
Sanders denied the request.
Christopher Fallon, spokesman for the state Department of Correction, said defendants in high-profile cases are often placed apart from the prison’s general population and travel around the prison — whether for meals or to the library —
Bella Bond’s father, Joseph Amoroso, who in a victim impact statement described Bella as a “gift from God,” said McCarthy received the proper punishment.
“God be with him,” he said.
Not in the courtroom was Bond, 41, who pleaded guilty in February to acting as an accessory after the fact to murder and to larceny, for collecting her daughter’s government benefits after she died.
She will be sentenced July 12 and is expected to receive two years of probation. She was scheduled to be released this week, but chose to remain in jail because she did not want to risk the temptations of the street. She is a recovering heroin user.
“Rachelle did not want her appearance to be a focus of the sentencing,” her lawyer, Janice Bassil, said in an e-mail. “While she is grateful to the district attorney for obtaining a conviction, no sentence served by Michael McCarthy will ever lessen her grief over her child’s death.”