SJC upholds 2011 murder conviction of irrigation worker

William B. Dunn stood with his attorney during his arraignment in November 2007.
Robert E. Klein for the Boston Globe/File
William B. Dunn stood with his attorney during his arraignment in November 2007.

The lawn irrigation worker who attacked and killed an elderly man in the basement of the victim’s Needham home in 2007 and then attacked a relative was mentally ill on that day, but was still properly convicted of first-degree murder, the state’s highest court has ruled.

William B. Dunn was working in the yard and then the basement of Robert Moore’s home when he savagely beat the 78-year-old to death and was trying to destroy evidence when he attacked Moore’s daughter-in-law, leaving her so bloody her son did not recognize her.

Dunn ran from the scene, triggering a massive manhunt in the western suburb that led to lockdowns at local schools and a tense confrontation in the center of the town with an innocent man mistaken as the murder suspect. Dunn was captured by State Police who found him lying in a drainage ditch on Route 128 covered with leaves, according to the Supreme Judicial Court.


During Dunn’s Norfolk Superior Court trial, defense psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow testified that Dunn was psychotic and overcome by delusions that Hewlett-Packard was taking over the country. But prosecution expert witness, Dr. Alison Fife, told jurors Dunn’s actions were that of a mentally ill man capable of controlling himself.

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In a unanimous opinion written by Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants, the state’s highest court agreed and left intact Dunn’s first degree murder conviction and the penalty it carries, life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The court said that Dunn was fully functional when he went to Providence the weekend before the killing to celebrate his wife’s birthday; was also fully able to function when he met with his therapist the day before the murder; and completed a complex irrigation installation just before murdering Moore and nearly killing his daughter-in-law.

“The jury reasonably could credit Dr. Fife’s testimony that a person would not have this degree of functionality and then suddenly ‘snap into’ a delusional psychosis when he went into the cellar to install the control clock and timer,’’ Gants wrote. “We cannot be certain what triggered the defendant’s rage, but the Commonwealth need not establish the defendant’s motive for the killing.”

Dunn is currently at the Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater, a medium security prison, according to the Department of Correction.

John R. Ellement can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.