Police say Karen Read killed her officer boyfriend with her SUV. She says she’s being framed in a cover-up

A case that has grabbed media attention - here’s what we know about the murder that left a Boston police officer dead outside a home, writes Faiza Saqib

Friday 28 July 2023 16:29 BST
Karen Read was charged with second-degree murder
Karen Read was charged with second-degree murder (Boston Globe via Getty)

On a cold Saturday morning in January 2022, Boston police officer John O’Keefe was found dead on a snow bank outside a colleague’s house.

Days later, his girlfriend Karen Read was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. Prosecutors allege she struck O’Keefe with her SUV outside the home of fellow officer Brian Albert, where he’d spent the night drinking at a party. She is accused of being drunk at the time she hit him, and of leaving him to die.

Ms Read, meanwhile, is telling a very different story.

She claims she found O’Keefe dead when she came to pick him up the morning after the party.

Her attorneys claim O’Keefe’s injuries were consistent with a severe beating, rather than being struck by a car, and that Ms Read is being framed by the real killer or killers.

The case hit headlines again in late July 2023 as Ms Read appeared in a Dateline interview, where she insisted she and O’Keefe were “happy, having fun, laughing” in the hours before he was killed and alleged she is being unfairly prosecuted in a “cover-up”.

A clip from the interview aired the night before Ms Read appeared in Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham, where the case’s rising media attention became a part of the legal arguments, according to NBC Boston.

Ms Read was met by a crowd of supporters outside the court - including her father who told the group and reporters that his daughter is “factually innocent”.

"I am so immensely proud − my wife, Janet, and I − to be the father of Karen Read because she’s fighting this. She’s factually innocent, and this commonwealth will ultimately see that,” Mr Read said.

Police Officer John O’Keefe ( Boston Police Department )

Here’s what to know about the case:

What has Karen Read been accused of?

On the morning on 29 January 2022, O’Keefe was found in the snow outside a Canton home. He was taken to hospital and pronounced dead. A few days later, Ms Read was arrested on suspicion of hitting O’Keefe with her vehicle and leaving him to die.

Prosecutors have said in the hours before the incident took place, Ms Read and O’Keefe were seen at C.F McCarthy’s bar in Canton on the night on 28 January. The two had been drinking at the bar with friends. They then decided to go to Waterfall Bar and Grille across the street around 11pm, where they stayed for about an hour.

After they left the bar and they were invited to a party at the home of Brian Albert on Fairview Road. A few hours later, O’Keefe was found fatally injured outside the house.

When questioned by police, Ms Read said she has dropped O’Keefe off at the house shortly after midnight and went home as she was having stomach problems. Ms Read said after many attempts to contact O’Keefe and not getting a response, she decided to return to the house with two friends in the early hours of the morning - where she found O’Keefe unresponsive outside the home on Fairview Road in the snow.

What did the autopsy report find?

An autopsy found that O’Keefe had several abrasions on his right forearm, two black eyes, a cut on his nose, a two-inch laceration to the back of his head and multiple skull fractures. According to reports, hypothermia was also believed to be a contributing factor in his death.

Ms Read was arrested three days after O’Keefe’s body was found and she was initially charged with mansalughter.

Ms Read pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

What are the prosecution’s claims against Ms Read?

According to reports from NBC Boston, Norfolk County prosecutors said Ms Read suggested to the two friends she was with, as well as Canton emergency services that were at the scene (firefighter and paramedic), that she had hit O’Keefe with her SUV.

At the time, one of the friends told the police and claimed that Ms Read called her at 5am and said “John’s dead, I wonder if he’s dead. It’s snowing, he got hit by a plough. I hit him, I hit him, I hit him, I hit him," she allegedly told the paramedic.

The black Lexus SUV, a 2021 edition, was found by investigators at Ms Read’s parent’s house and was seized. When investigators found the vehicle, it had a shattered right rear tail light and several scratches on its rear bumper. Prosecutors also said there were shards of glass embedded in the bumper which were consistent with a glass O’Keefe had been seen holding. Prosecutors said pieces of the tail light were also found in the snow outside of the house on Fairview Road.

In a court hearing on June 2022, Assistant District Attorney Adam Lally said Ms Read and O’Keefe had been arguing for “quite some time” and added: “Numerous times over the weeks preceding this, that on one occasion the victim had attempted to break up with the defendant, had asked her to leave his home and she refused to do so."

What are the defence’s claims?

Ms Read’s attorneys have argued that there was a large-scale cover-up between local and state police investigating the death of O’Keefe.

The defence pointed to O’Keefe’s injuries, which they argued may be from an animal attack, and also looked at the evidence from a search they did on a phone that belonged to someone else at the party as proof.

The defence claims that the state police investigator in charge of the case had ties with the homeowner and also said that people at the party worked together to put the blame on Ms Read.

However, Mr Lally argued that the defence had not shown the "relevancy or evidentiary value" of the records requested.

On 3 May 2022, in a court appearance, Ms Read’s attorneys said they were denied access to evidence but the evidence they had seen suggested that O’Keefe died inside Mr Albert’s home.

Alan Jackson, who is one of the lawyers representing Ms Read, argued that the wounds found on the victim after his death were not consistent with a car crash, but instead, it looked like an animal attack. Mr Jackson then pointed to the German shepherd previously owned by Mr Albert. The dog has since been rehomed.

Mr Jackson stated that Mr Albert told a grand jury that his dog was inside on the night of O’Keefe’s death. "If that dog was inside the house that night — not on the front lawn, not in the front yard, but inside the house — and these injuries were suffered or sustained at the time John O’Keefe was killed, then that means that John O’Keefe was inside the house when he was killed, and it also means that his body was moved," Mr Jackson added.

The defence also looked at O’Keefe’s phone data which they said suggested that he has gone up and down the stairs after Ms Read dropped him off. The prosecution has labelled that information unreliable.

The defence also wants to look at records on the location of the dog, if it is still alive as well as a sample of its saliva and hair sample. That request was approved by a judge.

The media frenzy behind the case

In the latest developments, Mr Jackson argued that there was a perception in the public that Judge Beverly Cannone was not impartial in the case due to reports suggesting she has a connection with family tied to the case and called on her to be removed. However, Judge Cannone did not recuse herself at the hearing on 25 July.

Mr Lally argued back and said the evidence shared in the course was separate from its context and that Judge Cannone’s rulings aren’t the basis for removal. He said if a recusal was put in place "every time a judge denies a motion, we’re going to have to find a different judge."

Judge Cannone rejected the notion and said that “untrue and unsubstantiated rumours spread on the internet can force a judge to recuse herself."

She argued that the evidence shared by the defence was not true and feels discussions on the internet could become the basis of requests for recusal. "Simply because someone plays with my name or gives credence to those who do by holding up a placard, you can’t create a reasonable and credible appearance of a lack of impartiality," Judge Cannone said, according to NBC Boston.

The prosecution has said that the defence is taking a “trial by media” strategy by sharing “unsubstantiated claims” that could risk the fairness in the case and of potential jurors.

Mr Lally said that he found out about some motions made by the defence team from his press officer because they had been shared in the media before they were filed in court. As a result of this, the prosecutor said some witnesses have been harassed for it.

However, another lawyer of Ms Read’s, David Yannetti, argues that the prosecution speaking to the public about the case, damaged Ms Read’s reputation before she had a chance to make her case in the court of public opinion.

"They were quite happy with the press this case was getting when it was in their favour," Mr Yannetti said.

Amidst the media attention, in the Dateline interview, Ms Read said she dropped off Mr O’Keefe and assumed he went inside. The next morning she found him and "His eyes were swollen shut. He had blood dripping out of his nose.”

Speaking to NBC News, Mr Jackson added: "I have an innocent client, period. John walked into an element of hostility in that house. John O’Keefe got out of a car, walked into the house, was sucker punched, fell, hurt himself, and then ultimately his body was moved."

Prosecutors have now filed a motion asking Ms Read and her attorneys to stop speaking to the media.

The Dateline episode featuring Ms Read has not yet been announced.

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