Did a professor run over her police officer boyfriend and leave him to die in the snow – or is she being framed?

Karen Read’s murder charges have generated a media frenzy for months, with competing claims of a cold-blooded killing and conspiracy theories about a cover-up. Katie Hawkinson reports

Wednesday 17 April 2024 01:08 BST
Karen Read in court on the first day of her trial. She insists she is being framed
Karen Read in court on the first day of her trial. She insists she is being framed (Boston 25 News/YouTube)

On a snowy night more than two years ago, a Boston, Massachusetts police officer was found dead in the snow outside a fellow officer’s home in the town of Canton.

John O’Keefe was discovered on 29 January 2022 by his girlfriend, Karen Read, and two friends.

Hours earlier the couple had been at a bar together before parting ways – he was going to an after-party, while she reportedly said she felt unwell and was heading home.

Now, Ms Read, a finance professor, is charged with his murder — accused of running him over in her car and then leaving him to die in the snow.

But the case has sprawled far beyond the courtroom, with local bloggers and community members calling for her acquittal as her defence team argues she was framed.

Her much-anticipated trial, which began on 16 April with jury selection, has sprawled far beyond the courtroom, with local bloggers and community members calling for her acquittal as her defence team argues she was framed.

Judge Beverly Cannone introduces Karen Read murder trial

Competing versions of what happened

Ms Read faces a second-degree murder charge in connection with her boyfriend’s death.

O’Keefe’s body was found in a pile of snow near a friend’s home in January 2022. She was arrested days after his death. Prosecutors argue that after dropping him off at the home of a fellow police officer, she hit her boyfriend with her black Lexus SUV while intoxicated and fled the scene.

Meanwhile, Ms Read’s attorneys argue she has been framed in a large cover-up, claiming a law enforcement official who investigated the case has personal ties to the family of retired detective Brian Albert, outside whose home O’Keefe was found. Her attorneys also claim O’Keefe’s injuries were consistent with a severe beating, rather than with being struck by a car.

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. Authorities also say hypothermia was a contributing factor in his death.

During the first day of her trial, Judge Beverly Cannone permitted Ms Read’s attorneys to use a “third-party culprit defense,” which means they can argue someone else committed the murder other than Ms Read.

“I’m going to give you a chance to develop it through relevant, competent, admissible evidence,” Judge Cannone told the defence, per NBC Boston. “But you cannot open with it.”

Read in court. Prosecutors say she ran over her boyfriend, John O’Keefe, and left him to die in the snow
Read in court. Prosecutors say she ran over her boyfriend, John O’Keefe, and left him to die in the snow (NBC10)

Last week, Ms Read’s legal team presented three alleged third-party culprits who were in the Alberts’ home the night O’Keefe died, according to The Boston Globe. The list included Mr Albert, his nephew, and a federal law enforcement agent named Brian Higgins, who Ms Read’s team claims has a romantic interest in her.

Assistant Norfolk District Attorney Adam Lally fought back against these claims.

“In regard to Mr. Higgins, that was a fanciful story,” Mr Lally said Friday. “But again, there’s actually no actual evidence of most of those things, or at least the imputations, or the connotations, that counsel wants to put behind that.”

None of the men have been charged in connection with the case.

Accounts of the night John O’Keefe died

Witness accounts of the night O’Keefe died were revealed in early April in newly-unsealed court documents following a request from The Boston Globe.

Ms Read and O’Keefe met a friend, Jennifer McCabe, at a local bar the evening of 28 January 2022, according to witness statements. As the bar closed, the group was invited to the home of Nicole Albert and her husband Brian, a former fellow Boston police officer.

Ms Read told police she subsequently dropped O’Keefe off at the Alberts’ home. Ms Read said she went home afterwards due to stomach problems.

In the early hours of the morning on 29 January, Ms McCabe said Ms Read called her in distress. The finance professor said she had tried to contact O’Keefe and could not reach him, Ms McCabe told authorities. They later met up with another friend, Kerry Roberts, who received similar calls from Ms Read.

Ms Roberts told police Ms Read called and said her boyfriend was dead, claiming he may have been hit by a snowplough. Ms McCabe also told police Ms Read asked her, “Could I have hit him?”

The group then said they found O’Keefe unresponsive lying in the snow in front of the Alberts’ home. Ms Roberts began CPR, and Ms McCabe called the police.

After paramedics arrived, witnesses said Ms Read repeatedly asked if her boyfriend was dead. Responding troopers also observed Ms Read had a broken taillight.

Media frenzy complicates the case

Ms Read’s case quickly gained notoriety, in great part thanks to Turtleboy Daily News, a local blog. One of its senior editors, Aidan Kearney, wrote about her case extensively.

Mr Kearney is now on trial for alleged witness intimidation connected to Ms Read’s case. He was first arrested and charged in October 2023. A grand jury further indicted him on more charges in December, all related to witness tampering and intimidation. At the same time, a judge revoked his bail and he was sent to jail.

Additional charges were added in February, at which point Mr Kearney was released from jail on personal recognisance — that is, a promise to return to court. Prosecutors claim the blogger used his platform to intimidate witnesses, such as by posting the phone number of a police officer who investigated the case. Meanwhile, Mr Kearney denies any wrongdoing and said he is exercising his right to free speech.

Protesters, like the one pictured earlier this month outside a Massachusetts courthouse, have carried signs calling for Ms Read’s acquittal
Protesters, like the one pictured earlier this month outside a Massachusetts courthouse, have carried signs calling for Ms Read’s acquittal (NBC10 Boston)

Mr Kearney also launched a fundraiser for legal fees, receiving more than $100,000.

“The message was sent loud and clear – if you exercise your First Amendment rights and expose police corruption they will send men with guns to your house to arrest you in front of your children’s school bus,” the fundraiser website reads.

The Turtleboy Daily News is also circulating a “Karen Read Legal Defense Fund,” which has raised $279,000 from more than 2,000 donors as of Tuesday.

It is unclear when either fundraiser first started.

Meanwhile, Ms Read’s attorneys filed a motion earlier this month to exclude all mentions of Mr Kearney’s alleged witness harassment and intimidation. They argued his case is not relevant to the homicide charges at hand.

Judge Cannone herself also faced scrutiny from the defence. Over the summer, Ms Read’s legal team suggested she was not impartial in the case due to reports suggesting she has a connection with a family tied to the case. However, Judge Cannone did not recuse herself.

“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 in July.

Who are John O’Keefe and Karen Read?

O’Keefe was 46 when he died more than two years ago. He was a member of the Boston Police Department for 16 years and grew up in Braintree, Massachusetts.

Ms Read, now 44, was an adjunct professor in the Finance Department at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. She was first hired in 2008, according to her LinkedIn profile. She also worked in Equity Research for Fidelity Investment.

A Bentley University spokesperson told The Independent it does not comment on ongoing legal cases. Fidelity Investment did not respond to The Independent’s request for comment ahead of publication.

While Ms Read could not have performed work while under arrest, it is unclear when precisely she stopped working for either organisation. However, local outlet Patch reported she did not teach during the Spring 2022 term given she was arrested shortly after O’Keefe’s death.

Karen Read’s trial begins

Ms Read’s Massachusetts Superior Court trial began on 16 April with jury selection. That process will continue throughout the week. Once the jury is seated, Judge Cannone said she expects the trial to last six to eight weeks.

Read is charged with second-degree murder, vehicular manslaughter while impaired and leaving the scene of an accident. She’s pleaded not guilty to all the charges.

The judge addressed the publicity of Ms Read’s case in court.

“We know that in the subject of this case, there are people advocating for one outcome or another with intensity, but without the benefit of having heard or seen any evidence at all,” Judge Cannone said.

Her comments likely came in light of the Turtleboy Daily News coverage and the protesters who gathered outside the courthouse for multiple pre-trial hearings, holding signs and wearing shirts in support of Ms Read.

Earlier this month, Judge Cannone approved and shrank the protest buffer zone outside the courthouse. Prosecutors initially called for protesters to be kept 500 feet away from the building, while Judge Cannone reduced the restriction to 200 feet, NBC Boston reports.

“While public comment will likely continue, the rule of law will be upheld,” Judge Cannone continued.

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