Court Upholds City Murder Verdict, Rules Texting Admissible

John Adams Courthouse, home to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court set a precedent Monday when it ruled, in a 2010 Haverhill murder case, text messages are admissible as evidence.

Justices upheld the first degree murder conviction of a man who killed his wife in their Haverhill apartment, ruling for the first time a text message sent by the victim to her son qualifies as an “excited utterance” and is therefore admissible. The ruling was a victory for Essex District Attorney Jonathan W. Blodgett’s office, which argued telephone texts are a “spontaneous” statement made in response to a “startling” event and not a comment based on reflective thought. “This type of statement is exempt from the hearsay rule which bars statements made outside of court to be used as evidence,” according to a statement issued Tuesday by Blodgett’s spokeswoman Carrie Kimball Monahan.

“…the tone and manner of the declarant, as evidenced by the writing itself, supports a determination that this statement was spontaneous, and thus reliable. The message was one sentence without any punctuation. The message related only to the circumstances of the threat to the victim’s safety and her reaction (fear) to that threat,” justices ruled.

In March, 2012, Craig Mulgrave was convicted of first degree murder in the stabbing death of his wife Christina Mulgrave in their Chestnut Street apartment Feb. 9, 2010. On appeal, the defendant argued that a text message the victim sent to her son stating that her husband was threatening to kill her should not have been introduced as evidence.

During the 2012 trial, Essex Assistant District Attorney Melissa Woodard introduced evidence, proving Craig Mulgrave, then 33, killed his wife, Christina Mulgrave, 45. Christina texted her son, writing her husband Craig was threatening to kill her and if “I pick up the phone he will kill me.” Six minutes later, she made a frantic 911 call reporting that her husband was stabbing her. Haverhill police arrived within two minutes of the call and found her barely breathing in a pool of blood. Police found Craig Mulgrave in the apartment, covered in blood and holding a knife.

“We are persuaded that the circumstances of the statement, the tone and manner of the statement and its timing, establish the second requirement of the spontaneous utterance exception to the hearsay rule,” justices wrote.

The jury during the first trial also rejected a defense claim the defendant’s depression and alcohol or drug use deprived him of the mental state required to commit first degree murder.

Essex Assistant District Attorney David O’Sullivan represented the Commonwealth before thestate’s highest court. Attorneys Robert S. Sinsheimer and Lisa Parlagreco represented Mulgrave.