By Denise Lavoie
---- — 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.”
Hampden District Attorney Mark Mastroianni said his office will appeal the ruling to the Supreme Judicial Court. He said the high court did not make it clear in its earlier rulings whether the revised jury instruction should be applied retroactively.
“When the court came out with the revised instruction, the court at that point had every opportunity to talk about whether or not it was intended to be retroactive, and without the court addressing that, I think we are in a good position to argue here that the benefit of that decision should not apply retroactively and that the defense nonetheless received a fair trial,” Mastroianni said.
An attorney for Rivera did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
During Rivera’s trial, witnesses testified that they saw Rivera approach Guzman’s police cruiser on July 5, 2007. Rivera went to his apartment, then returned to the cruiser with what witnesses described as a stick or bat. Witnesses said Rivera said, “You want some of this,” then struck Guzman.
After the attack, Guzman’s cruiser sped forward and crashed into a building. Witnesses said they heard Rivera say, “The next time I’ll do it with a gun. Don’t mess with me.” He also said, “I killed him. I killed him. I’m a warrior. I’m a warrior.”
Rivera had a long history of mental illness, with paranoid schizophrenia characterized by delusions and hallucinations. He had been hospitalized several times after erratic behavior, including one in 2003, when he barricaded himself in his apartment and threatened police with a machete.