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Plymouth DA drops murder case connected to racist emails

By Joseph Markman
The Enterprise

BROCKTON April 2015 – A murder case that prompted an outside investigation into racist emails sent by a former prosecutor has been dropped by the district attorney’s office.

The case against Michael Goncalves, charged with murdering a witness in 2010, will not move forward because there is “insufficient admissible evidence to proceed to trial,” the Plymouth County District Attorney’s office said in a motion filed Friday.
Goncalves and Joao Fernandes were both accused of killing Manuel Rodrigues, 32, on Nilsson Street in Brockton the day before he was set to testify in another murder trial.

Previous trials for the men ended in hung juries and both Goncalves and Fernandes were in the process of being retried when DA Timothy Cruz dropped the murder charge against Fernandes last month.

Like in the Fernandes case, the inability of a key witness of the prosecution to testify caused prosecutors to dismiss the murder charge against Goncalves. That witness was charged with a new crime and told prosecutors he intended to assert his fifth amendment right not to be a witness against himself, according to the motion.
The motion, filed in Brockton Superior Court, is known as a nolle prosequi, which means the state will not proceed in their prosecution of the charges, but they are not precluded from refiling or even increasing the charges at a later time.

In Fernandes’ trial last year, he was found guilty of multiple gun charges and will be held on those convictions. During Goncalves’ trial in January, a batch of offensive emails surfaced that led to a protest and prompted Cruz to call for an independent investigation into the messages.

The emails – sent by former Plymouth County prosecutor Karen O’Sullivan – had racial undertones about African-Americans and at least one email showed a lack of compassion for a 15-year-old sexual assault victim.

When the emails surfaced in media reports last month, they caused an uproar among Brockton activists and the city’s NAACP chapter.

In response, Cruz said he would initiate an independent investigation, using Kevin Burke, secretary of public safety under former Gov. Deval Patrick and a former Essex County district attorney.

Rosemary Scapicchio, a Boston attorney representing Goncalves, said her client was “thrilled” about the DA dropping his case, though he is still being held on a separate homicide charge.

The DA’s motion to drop the case did not mention the emails sent by O’Sullivan, but Scapicchio said she thinks the “timing is a little suspicious.”

Scapicchio had filed a motion in the case to obtain a copy of the hard drive that contained the offensive emails. Her request is unlikely to be considered by the judge now, but Scapicchio said she may consider filing a similar discovery motion in the future.

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