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Boston and Beyond

December 3, 2012

Man gets new trial in police officer beating

BOSTON (AP) — A Massachusetts man convicted of severely beating a Holyoke police officer will get a new trial with jurors who will get revised instructions used in cases of defendants who are mentally ill and were intoxicated at the time of the crime, the state Appeals Court ruled yesterday.

Alfredo Rivera was convicted of armed assault with intent to murder in a 2007 attack on Officer Wilfredo Guzman. Prosecutors said he beat Guzman with a mallet, causing permanent head injuries.

During Rivera’s trial, his lawyer argued that his client was severely mentally ill, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, and was not criminally responsible for his actions. Prosecutors said he knew what he was doing was wrong and waited until Guzman’s partner was called to another assignment to attack Guzman. Rivera also was convicted of assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon and assault and battery on a police officer.

In his appeal, Rivera’s lawyer argued that the judge’s instruction to the jury on criminal responsibility was inadequate and likely to have misled the jury. The judge used the model jury instruction in place at the time of Rivera’s 2009 trial.

The Appeals Court found that Rivera is entitled to a new trial with a jury instruction that was revised after his trial. The court noted that in two decisions since Rivera’s trial, the Supreme Judicial Court has found the old model instruction inadequate because it does not expressly inform the jury that the defendant’s mental illness alone — without the consumption of alcohol — could affect his ability to understand the wrongfulness of his actions.

“The test is whether the inadequacy of the instruction ‘was likely to have influenced the jury’s conclusion,’” Judge Mitchell Sikora Jr. wrote for the Appeals Court.

“Here, as there, criminal responsibility was the central issue of trial; and, as recounted, abundant evidence supported a finding of longstanding mental illness of the defendant. ... A deficient instruction would lodge at the heart of the case.”

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