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SJC upholds murder conviction of man who poisoned wife with antifreeze

The state’s highest court on Monday upheld the murder conviction of a deceitful radio jock who poisoned his wife in 2004 in Waltham by slipping antifreeze in her Gatorade, noting in a 32-page ruling that “the evidence of the defendant’s guilt was overwhelming.”

In the unanimous opinion, the Supreme Judicial Court rejected several legal arguments offered up by James P. Keown, 43, who is serving a life term without the possibility of parole for the murder of his wife, Julie.

Keown’s appellate lawyer couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

A Middlesex County jury convicted him in 2008 of killing his wife. Prosecutors showed the couple moved from Missouri to Waltham in January 2004, after Keown falsely told his wife and his employer that he had been accepted to Harvard Business School and wanted to work remotely, the opinion said.

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His employer, a consulting firm for nonprofits, fired him in July 2004 for embezzling funds from the organization, the ruling said.

The firing came two months after Julie Keown began showing signs of illness including flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, nausea, and malaise, and her condition worsened until her death in September 2004, according to the opinion.

Prosecutors argued at trial that James Keown coldly plotted his wife’s murder and wanted her dead to conceal the fact that their finances were depleted and to collect a payout on her life insurance policy, court records show.

Among the damning pieces of evidence that swayed the jury, the ruling said, were Google searches on a computer James Keown used, prior to his wife’s death, for “ ‘antifreeze death human’ and ‘poison recipe’; evidence that the taste of EG [ethylene glycol] can be masked by putting it in Gatorade and the defendant had been insistent that the victim drink Gatorade in the days and weeks before her death; and testimony by the medical examiner that the victim’s symptoms throughout the summer suggested that she had been given small doses of EG over a length of time and then a lethal dose prior to her final admission to the hospital.”

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Keown argued on appeal that the search warrant for his computer failed to establish probable cause to allow investigators to scour the device for evidence.

The SJC, in an opinion written by Justice David A. Lowy, wasn’t having it.

“Here, the [search warrant] affidavit drew sufficient nexus between the suspected criminal activity and the items sought by the warrant,” Lowy wrote.

Keown also argued that the trial judge improperly allowed the jury to hear that he used the computer username “Kaiser Soze,” an alternate spelling of a criminal mastermind played by Kevin Spacey in the 1995 film “The Usual Suspects” who kills his wife and children.

“The judge did not abuse her discretion in allowing the ‘Kaiser Soze’ evidence to be admitted at trial for the limited purpose of showing the defendant’s possession, custody, and control of the laptop computer,” Lowy wrote.

Last year, Keown posted an audio snippet on a website for prisoners where he described the moment of his arrest in November 2005 while working at a radio station in Jefferson City, Mo. He started playing a commercial, then stepped outside the studio around 9:15 a.m. he said.

“There I was greeted by two local detectives and two officers from Massachusetts,” Keown said in the recording, still sounding very much like a professional radio broadcaster. “At first I thought it was a gag, some sort of bizarre joke. But when the handcuffs clicked on my wrists and the words, ‘Under arrest for murder’ poured into my ears, I knew this was no gag.”

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He finished his recollection by saying, “My brain went into shock. It was a shock that would take a long time to emerge from.”

Keown has not posted a recording on the site since April 15, 2016, when he asserted he was banned from using Facebook, apparently because of his murder conviction.

He is incarcerated at a medium security prison in Norfolk, according to a state inmate database.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.