Michael O'Laughlin

Berkshire County, Massachusetts
Date of Crime:  November 17, 2000

Michael M. O'Laughlin was convicted of the assault and attempted murder of Annmarie Kotowski, a woman who lived in his apartment building. The victim was severely beaten to the extent that, except for her jaw, all the bones in her face were broken. In addition one of her ears was almost completely severed. At trial the state presented “evidence of motive, means, opportunity, and consciousness of guilt” on the part of O'Laughlin. However, such evidence only indicated that O'Laughlin could have committed the crime. It contained no necessary inferences that he did commit the crime.

The victim had lived with her husband, David Kotowski, for 26 years, but had separated from him just 2 months before the assault to pursue a relationship with another man, James Finn. She had mentioned divorce to her husband just one week before the assault. She had amnesia resulting from the assault and could not identify her assailant. The brutality of the assault suggested the assailant knew her enough to harbor rage towards her. O'Laughlin's alleged motive of robbery did not require such brutality and did not make much sense as nothing was stolen from the victim's apartment.

The trial judge refused to allow into evidence a note found in the victim's apartment. The note called its recipient “a whore,” used four-letter words to describe her having oral and regular sex with “him,” and contained the words, “threat to kill him,” suggesting murderous rage. The victim's relationships highly suggest that her husband had written the note to her and that the “him” mentioned in the note was her boyfriend, James Finn. Police had not used comparisons of handwriting to prove who wrote the note, and one reason citied for its inadmissibility was that allowing it into evidence “would have required the jury to speculate as to its meaning and genesis.”

The victim's husband was known to have blisters on his hands when questioned after the assault. He had two towels reeking of bleach in the trunk of his car. These suggested that he engaged in a cleanup. He also had no alibi for the hours surrounding the 2 a.m. assault, claiming to be home asleep at the time.

On appeal, the Massachusetts Appellate Court ruled in 2005 that the state's evidence was insufficient to establish guilt. It then vacated O'Laughlin's conviction and entered a verdict of acquittal. The prosecution appealed the decision to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which in 2006 reversed the appellate court's decision that the state's evidence was insufficient. The Court did indicate the decision was a close one, but it reinstated O'Laughlin's conviction. In 2009, the First Circuit Federal Court reversed the decision of the MSJC, after finding the evidence insufficient to convict. In 2010, O'Laughlin was freed from prison after the U.S. Supreme Court denied the prosecution's appeal.  [3/08]


References:  Case Summary, www.freemichaelnow.com

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Massachusetts Cases, Insufficient Evidence