US shootings man Neil Entwistle launches appeal

 

Lawyers for a British man serving a life sentence in the US for shooting dead his wife and baby daughter today launched an appeal against his conviction.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court today heard arguments from Neil Entwistle's lawyer, Stephen Paul Maidman, who called for a new trial for the convicted murderer.

Entwistle, who is originally from Worksop, Nottinghamshire, was jailed in June 2008 for shooting his American wife Rachel, 27, and their nine-month-old daughter Lillian at their home in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, on 20 January 2006.

Today, Mr Maidman argued that Entwistle should be given a new trial because, he said, police entered and searched the family's home twice in two days unlawfully without warrants and that evidence obtained during these searches should have been suppressed by the judge.

He also questioned the impartiality of the jury selection during today's 40-minute hearing.

Police found the bodies of Rachel and Lillian in bed during their second check of the home in January 2006.

Before the presiding appeal judges sitting at the state's highest court today, Mr Maidman argued that evidence taken from the rented property during the searches should have been suppressed during the trial because it was unlawfully obtained by the police.

"On the two occasions when the police entered the defendant's house, the police did not have objective knowledge of an emergency inside the house or have objective knowledge that there was a person inside the home in need of immediate aid," Mr Maidman argued in his appeal brief.

He continued: "The inevitable discovery doctrine does not purge the taint on the evidence seized as a direct result of these unlawful searches or the taint on the evidence derived from these unlawful searches.

"All of this evidence should have been suppressed at the defendant's trial."

One of the presiding judges asked: "People are missing, a baby is missing, what's not an emergency about that? There may be evidence in the house to where they can be found."

Mr Maidman replied: "The searches were not reasonable under the emergency aid document. They should have gone to the court for a warrant."

But prosecutors have argued that the police were justified in entering the property because they were responding to concerns about the family's wellbeing raised by friends and relatives.

They say that Entwistle had become despondent after accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in debt and had complained about his sex life with his wife.

In court today, Casey Silvia, acting for the Commonwealth, argued: "When the police entered the home they were acting well within their role as community caretakers."

She added: "The purpose (of the search) was to find information to help them trace the missing family's whereabouts and was more than reasonable under the circumstances.

"There was nothing else the officers could possibly have done to locate this family. The only way remaining to locate that family was to go back into that house.

"There's no indication of any constitutional violation or any misconduct. In these circumstances the police's action was commendable. They acted as any citizen would expect them to act in these circumstances."

Entwistle, a former IT consultant from Kilton, Worksop, left the US the day after the killings and told police he had departed because he wanted to be consoled by his parents in the UK.

He said he found his wife and daughter cuddled together in bed, dead of apparent gunshot wounds, after he returned home from running errands.

Friends giving evidence at the trial said the couple appeared to have had a happy marriage and were both thrilled with their daughter.

Entwistle met Rachel, of Kingston, Massachusetts, at college in England in 1999. The couple lived in England for a while after their daughter's birth, then moved to the US.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole at Middlesex County Superior Court in Woburn, Massachusetts, with the judge calling Entwistle's crimes "incomprehensible".

Judge Kottmyer also imposed a 10-year probation sentence for two firearms offences and ordered that Entwistle should not profit from his crimes by writing a book.

When asked whether evidence should have been suppressed, Ms Silvia told today's hearing: "The only DNA evidence that was relevant to proving the case had nothing to do with the search of the Entwistle home.

"There was computer evidence but that would have still been there regardless of when the search was carried out."

Entwistle's lawyer also argued that judge Diane Kottmyer did not thoroughly question potential jurors to determine whether they were biased against him after the case received intense local and international news coverage.

"That there was extraordinary prejudicial pre-trial publicity in this case that was both saturating and inflammatory, by Massachusetts and even national standards, cannot be legitimately disputed," Mr Maidman stated in the appeal brief.

Judge Kottmyer denied Entwistle's request to move the trial out of Middlesex county.

"The defendant is entitled to a new trial utilising a jury selection process where there can be no question that the seated jurors are fair and impartial," Mr Maidman wrote.

But today Ms Silvia said the judge did "everything she could to" engage a fair and impartial jury.

She said the jury was asked to fill out a thorough and extensive questionnaire consisting of 26 questions, many asking them about their exposure to media coverage about the case and their opinions.

Four potential jurors were dismissed over bias concerns, Ms Silvia said.

Concluding the hearing, Ms Silvia appealed to the judges to affirm the sentence already handed to Entwistle.

The judges will now decide whether Entwistle is entitled to a new trial. That decision could take weeks or even months, a court clerk said.

PA

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