By Douglas I. Louison of Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff, LLP
In a highly publicized ruling, a United States District Court Judge has dismissed a civil rights lawsuit brought Donnell Johnson, who was convicted of murdering a nine year old boy in Boston (Germaine Goffigan) on Halloween eve (October 31, 1994). The Goffigan murder culminated one of the most violent years in Boston history. Johnson was identified as one of the shooters by several eyewitnesses including Goffigan’s brother who was playing in the yard during the shooting. Since Johnson was a juvenile at the time, he was afforded a bench trial and jury trial under the de novo system. After serving almost 6 years in custody for the murder, Johnson was released by the District Attorney’s office who entered a nolle prosequi. To this day, it is unclear exactly why the District Attorney’s office took this action as the two suspects who were later arrested for the murder do not match any of the descriptions of the perpetrators given to police after the shooting.
Following his release from custody, Johnson filed a civil action against two Boston Police Detectives as well as the City of Boston alleging that they violated his civil rights by failing to turn over a statement he gave to police at the time of his interrogation at his bench trial. Johnson had earlier made this same argument before the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts following his criminal conviction via a jury trial. The SJC rejected this argument stating that because the statement was only a generic denial of the charges against him, it was hearsay and could not be introduced during his bench trial. (The statement was produced and available for Johnson’s jury trial)
The United States District Court in Johnson’s civil case agreed with the SJC and dismissed all civil rights claims against the Detectives noting that Johnson’s right to a fair trial was not violated by the alleged withholding of his statement during his bench trial as the statement was inadmissible and was later produced at his jury trial for which was found guilty.
Attorney Douglas Louison of Louison, Costello, Condon & Pfaff, LLP represented Boston Police Detective William Mahoney in this case.