Secret Squirrel Strikes Again . . . in Dedham

William Dunn

Little new emerged today at the arragnment of William Dunn for the murder of 78-year-old Robert Moore, a man everyone seems to have admired. Why nothing new? Because,at least according to the story by the Globe’s John Ellement, Judge Patricia Kurtin sealed the court file.

Now, what’s in there? There has to be, at the very least, a complaint and a police statement establishing probable cause to hold Dunn, likely with a fair level of detail about the police investigation to date. Why the secrecy? Are the police concerned that its release will permit other suspects to avoid apprehension? Hardly. The best (though, in fairness, not the only possible) explanation for this move is that the prosecution simply wants to control the flow of information to the public. Why? Because they can, as long as they can find a Judge who will let them get away with spoonfeeding information to reporters.

Given the level of interest in this case, the lockdown of the local schools, the arrest of Hillel Neuer as a result of the paranoia that evidently gripped the town, or at least Stone Hearth Pizza, on Friday afternoon, there is absolutely no call for secrecy for these basic court documents. Judge Kurtin’s decision would be unlikely to withstand a legal challenge, but will anyone look to break the seal? We’ll see whether this case is one that the papers really care about.

In the meantime, the Globe’s photo of Dunn (that’s him at the top) isn’t going to do anything to discourage talk of an insanity defense. Dunn’s lawyer, Robert Griffin, wisely held his tongue on the courthouse steps. It’s far too early to guess how this case will play out, but it has all the elements of heartbreaking drama–a victim who seems like a wonderful guy, and a defense likely built on the claim that his killer was a deeply, deeply troubled man who is sick, not evil. Stay tuned.

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Filed under Globe vs. Herald, Homicide, Insanity Defense, Needham, Secret Squirrel

Question of the Day–Where is being a lawyer more dangerous: Needham or Islamabad?

So the Needham police, like Jack Dempsey, believe that the best defense is a good offense. What else explains how quickly they released the 911 tapes of the calls made by Stone Hearth Pizza employees on Friday? These calls led the police to surround the pizzeria Friday afternoon and arrest Hillel Neuer, a man who evidently has three law degrees (how many do you need, exactly?) and serves as the Executive Director of UN Watch, the Geneva affiliate of the American Jewish Committee. The calls, halting and barely intelligible, make clear that the pizza shop employees falsely believed, for reasons that remain unclear, that Neuer had a gun. (One curious twist: during one of the calls, the employee asks the dispatcher “What kind of pizza do you want?” Perhaps she was trying to hide the fact of her call from Neuer. Or maybe they really, really believe in customer service.)

But there may be one problem with Needham’s PR tactic: According the press release from the American Jewish Congress, Neuer himself called 911 twice during the standoff. Were those tapes released? I can’t find them anywhere on the internet, and my guess is that the PD didn’t think they would help, so they are still at police headquarters and won’t be released unless some media outlet asks.

In any event, some good decisions were made over at the Dedham Courthouse this morning. The Clerk Magistrate dismissed the disorderly condut charges, apparently without objection by the Norfolk DA or the police. But will Neuer have enough common sense simply to walk away, and understand that sometimes people, like the frantic pizza employees, make mistakes, and the police simply reacted to what appeared to be a dangerous situation? The AJC press release, quoting Neuer’s well known lawyer David G. Eisenstadt, suggests that a civil suit may be brewing: “Mr. Neuer was an innocent man who went to a restaurant in Needham, and was traumatized and almost killed as a result. His impeccable reputation was unfairly tarnished by these events . . . . Why certain individuals in Needham acted in a reckless manner requires further examination.”

Honesty, gentlemen, is a lawsuit is really going to help anybody? Here’s a thought: Mr. Stone Hearth Pizza Owner, you of the three stores in MetroWest and the rave reviews for your pies, recognize that this wasn’t exactly the best way to treat a customer. Pick up the phone today, call the AJC, and offer to sponsor a series of programs at Needham High, at Town Hall, wherever you can find an audience, on the importance of tolerance in our free society. Or on whatever else they’d like you to sponsor. And give everyone who attends free pizza at the end.

And to the Needham PD: we’re watching to see if Neuer’s 911 calls show up anywhere.

JS.

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News Flash: Globe beats Herald on Needham Homicide Story

The Globe (thank you Mr. and Mrs. Ellement) did a much better job than the Herald this morning reporting on the sad case of the murder of 78-year-old Robert Moore, who was apparently beaten to death in his own cellar by William B. Dunn of Norwood, an employee of Mass Irrigation Company of Quincy, who was at Moore’s home working on Moore’s sprinkler system.

The Globe found a Norwood PD report revealing that Dunn was admitted to Carney Hospital for psychiatric treatment in August. Dunn wandered away from the hospital, only to be found by police a day later walking near a Norwood cemetary. No word on what happened after the police returned him to the hospital, or whether Mass Irrigation knew of his difficulties before sending him out to deal with customers. Dunn’s family told police he was laboring under the delusion that he had “stumbled upon a stock scandal and that there were people after him”–a state of mind commonly seen among the staff of the Boston office of the SEC, but presumably less common among sprinkler guys.

This may be a case where an insanity defense might actually have some legs.

KP

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Filed under Globe vs. Herald, Homicide, Insanity Defense, Needham, SEC

One Less Bell to Answer . . .

d3be274f88_hillelneuer11042007.jpg

Well, the Needham Police have one less worry this morning–it looks like the United Nations Council for Human Rights won’t be investigating the arrest of Pizza Man (identified in today’s Herald and Globe as Hillel C. Neuer, 37, a prominent critic of that organization). The Herald adds to the list of facts that caused the jumpy employees of Stone Hearth Pizza to call in the SWAT Team: Neuer was “acting in distress, carrying several large bags and saying he wanted a taxi to Newton.” Let’s just hope none of these hypervigilantes ends up getting a job at the Chestnut Hill Mall or the Atrium: the police would have to establish a permanent command post there.

Did the police overreact? One can’t be too harsh on them, given the homicide in town earlier that day, and the 911 call reporting (incorrectly) that Neuer had a gun. If common sense prevails, the Norfolk DAs office and the Needham Police will choose not to press charges on Monday morning, and Mr. Neuer will go on his way. But that may be too much to ask. Watch to see whether the Needham PD press to get a release from Neuer–a move that would l only prolong this unfortunate drama.

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Mike Sullivan, Media Victim?

Mike and Alberto

Who knows when, or even if, US Attorney Michael Sullivan will be confirmed by the Senate to run ATF? (Who knows, for that matter, exactly what the head of ATF does, or what real impact its director can have on public safety or law enforcement? Or why someone would give up a position like US Attorney, where you can make real decisions in real cases, for that kind of bureaucrat’s job? But I digress.)

Whatever the timetable may prove to be, it’s clear that, now more than ever, the media knives are out for Sullivan, as evidenced by a hatchet job by Joe Keohane in Boston Magazine and a more balanced but generally unflattering piece earlier this week by Jonathan Saltzmann in the Globe

Does he deserve it? In many ways, of course, Sullivan’s made himself an easy target by failing to bow and scrape to the powers-that-be over at One Courthouse Way. He’s declined to genuflect to the judges, and they are not happy about that. Once upon a time, his willingness to stand up to the judges, particularly in contrast to his predecessor, was seen as a breath of fresh air by many Assistant US Attorneys. But that day is gone, as the judges have made prosecutors lives nearly–but only nearly–as difficult as they’ve always made things for defense lawyers.

More to the point, even before he was nominated to ATF, Sullivan was seen as an absentee landlord by the rank-and-file assistants–setting hard and fast rules without making the investment of time necessary to understand the difficulties associated with the cases. Many say he seems more concerned about cultivating his image than about the day in, day out work that, taken together, separates the good US Attorney’s offices from the mediocre ones. To office insiders, Sullivan never seemed like he was interesting in minding the store.

That Sullvan’s hired a couple of his buddies got prominent play in the Boston Magazine slash-and-burn story. (My favorite line: “Despite the throngs of street criminals shipped to the federal pen since Sullivan took office, violence continues unimpeded in urban Massachusetts.” Well, can’t we at least admit that the people who’ve gotten the long sentences have been pretty effectively impeded?) But, in truth, having a sponsor who knows the US Attorney has always been a big help in getting hired as an Assistant US Attorney. It’s a big office, and two crony hires (if that’s what they were) surely aren’t going to define Sullivan’s legacy.

A larger issue, as the Globe story pointed out, is the falling number of prosecutions. But, in the end, do we judge a US Attorney by the number of cases his office has brought? As the excellent White Collar Crime Prof Blog and the American Lawyer have recently noted, corporate crime prosecutions have fallen off dramatically nationwide.

Shouldn’t we focus on the quality of the cases, and how his office has fared when the cases come to Court? Here, the record is mixed, but mostly positive. The office devoted lots of resources to some cases that came out well–to Richard Reid’s prosecution, for example, to the prosecution of Paul DeCologero for the murder of Aislin Silva, and to some investigations that remain works in progress, like the Big Dig case. The Health Care Fraud Unit has racked up big fines and civil penalties, but has a poor track record at convicting individuals.

Ironically, a low point in Sullivan’s tenure may be an area he likes to talk about as a major accomplisment: gun and drug prosecutions. His rigid sentencing policies have resulted in more trials. More trials mean that assistants have less time for grand jury work. Less grand jury work means fewer indictments. Fewer indictments mean that fewer dangerous criminals will be taken off the street now, when they are young, and liable to do the most damage. Phone book sentences mainly mean there’ll be fewer geriatric criminals on the street in 35 years, but I’m really not worried about whether these defendants get out of prison when they are in their 40s rather than their 50s or 60s–the real worries are the dangerous men in their 20s who aren’t being indicted now.

One can’t, in the end, discount the wide cultural gap between Sullivan, the judges and most of the prosecutors in his office. Elitism–based on academic credentials, law firm pedigree and the like–will never be in short supply on the federal bench or in the US Attorney’s office. Sullivan never fit that bill. His rough and ready persona was a perfect fit for a state prosecutor’s office. But many federal judges and just as many federal prosecutors tend to look down on state court prosecutors as less evolved forms of lawyers. To his credit, Sullivan never felt the need to kowtow to the prevailing elitist ethic.

There may be a change of leadership soon (with the smart money these days betting on Roberto Braceras)but it’s hard to imagine that there won’t be a much bigger change after the election. The Sullivan experiment–tough talk, all the time–will almost surely be replaced by a more nuanced approach, more to the liking of the judges. And more to the liking of most line prosecutors–whose work, of course, is what really counts in the end.

KP

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Filed under Mike Sullivan, US Attorney's Office

Uh, Make that a Large Pizza, Please

8b6cba4d22_needham_11032007.jpg“There should be reason to feel safe in Needham, and there’s no reason to be fearful right now,” Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating told reporters gathered at the town police station.” So reports the Boston Globe this morning.

Unless, apparently, you want to have a sprinkler system installed, or buy a pizza and use your cell phone at the same time. While we’ll just have to wait and see why William Dunn allegedly beat his 78-year old customer to death (Needham’s first murder since the grisly Beldotti case), the more interesting question focuses on the yet-unidentified man captured outside Needham’s Stone Hearth Pizza. According to the story, written by Ralph Ranalli and Lisa Kocian, a Stone Hearth employee called the police because of the customer’s extremely suspicious actions, to wit:

1. He appeared to be in his mid 30s;
2. He ordered a small pizza;
3. He ordered a soda (no size given);
4. He changed his clothes in the bathroom–evidently putting a suit on, judging from the photos;
5. He kept walking to the windows and looking outside; and
6. He talked on his cell phone.

So, admittedly, the change in clothes is a little odd, as Republican supporters of Greg Hyatt will no doubt recall, but was the rest of what he did worth turning Needham Center into a Dog Day Afternoon rerun for most of the afternoon?

Maybe our friend should have ordered the large pizza–as everyone knows, only real troublemakers order the small ones.

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Filed under Homicide, Needham

What’s Up in Needham?

Standoff in NeedhamFor a place where nothing much happens, Needham made up for lost ground today. Two big arrests: according to Boston.com, Needham police arrested William Dunn, 41, and charged him with the killing Robert Moore, 78, and beating Moore’s daughter-in-law, who, fortunately, appears likely to come out the hospital alive. Dunn is a sprinkler guy. Moore was his customer. Dogs led the police to him. No further word on what prompted the beating.

During the manhunt, all hell broke loose in the rest of the town. The police ordered a lockdown of the schools–scaring the bejeezus out of thousands of Needham’s parents. And downtown, a standoff outside a pizza joint, resulting in the arrest, at gunpoint, of a middle aged guy in a dark suit, white shirt and tie that made him look like a extra from Men in Black III. Fox 25 had great video, and later reported that this guy (they gave his name, but I didn’t catch it) was charged with . . . hold steady now … Disturbing the Peace–and released on bail at the station. We’ll see, but my guess is that the reports that Public Enemy No. 2 had a gun, or held hostages, probably won’t pan out. Somebody’s going to have some ‘splaining to do it, and we will just have to wait and see whether it’s the police or Mr. Chips.

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