By Denise Lavoie
---- — BOSTON (AP) — It took 30 years for Boston police to get a conviction in the death of Carlos Matos, a 14-year-old boy who was shot in the head with a high-powered rifle as he played in a city park.
Now, almost 40 years after the shooting, Rodolfo Carr is challenging his conviction in the case before the highest court in Massachusetts. He argues that he was denied his right to a speedy trial. The Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear arguments Friday.
Carr was a 20-year-old who was known as “Honduras” in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston. For reasons that were never fully explained during his trial, he and Matos had a brief fistfight on Aug. 5, 1974.
Witnesses testified that later that day, they saw Carr pull a rifle out of some bushes, then aim at Matos, who was standing in the outfield of the park. Matos’ cousin, then 12, testified that he yelled, “Run. He is going to kill you.”
A bullet struck Matos in the head. He died 11 days later.
Boston police immediately zeroed in on Carr and issued a warrant for his arrest.
But authorities said Carr fled to Indiana, where he spent the next two decades in and out of prison for various crimes.
Carr was finally brought back to Massachusetts in 1997 and convicted in Matos’ killing in 2004.
Carr’s lawyers say police in either Massachusetts or Indiana are to blame for not bringing Carr to trial between the shooting in 1974 and 1994, when the Boston Police Department’s cold case squad found Carr in prison in Indiana using the name Ivan Santa.
“Either Massachusetts made a mistake or Indiana made a mistake, but it doesn’t matter,” said his appellate attorney Russell Sobelman. “The police didn’t keep track of him.”
Prosecutors, however, say Carr is to blame for the long delay in his trial because fled Boston immediately after the shooting and began using a series of aliases.
“Our position is that the use of aliases throughout that time is evidence of his intent to avoid identification, and he should not benefit from those efforts,” said Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley.
Prosecutors say Boston police sent an arrest warrant in Matos’ killing to Indiana in September 1974 after discovering that Carr had been arrested on other charges there. In March 1975, Carr was acquitted of the Indiana charges and released, even though the Massachusetts warrant was supposed to serve as a detainer, prosecutors argue in their legal brief filed in the appeal. They say Carr remained in the Midwest, committing occasional crimes under various aliases.
“The commonwealth should not shoulder the blame for Indiana’s blunder or the defendant’s evasive tactics and flight from the commonwealth,” Assistant District Attorney Amanda Teo wrote.
In his appeal, Carr’s lawyer also argues that much of the police file and physical evidence was lost by the time of the trial.
Carr’s lawyer also argues that the trial judge was wrong to deny funds for the defense to hire an expert who could have questioned the reliability of eyewitness identification. Carr could not afford to hire his own expert, Sobelman said.
“There are a lot of psychological and other scientific reasons why identifying someone 20 years later is difficult or maybe even impossible. An expert could have explained this to the jury,” Sobelman said.
Prosecutors, however, said this was not a case that hinged on the identification of a single witness who had never seen him before. Several people who were at the park and knew Carr from the neighborhood identified Carr as the shooter during his trial, though it was three decades later.