Coakley Hasn’t Followed Through On Promise to Families of Waltham Triple-Murder Victims
The victims' families are growing increasingly frustrated by the lack of information about the investigation into the 2011 slayings.
A couple of weeks ago, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor, gave a speech at the annual Garden of Peace ceremony, which honors homicide victims and their families. Among the bereaved in the audience were Aria Weissman and Dylan Mess. Aria’s brother, Erik Weissman, and Dylan’s brother, Brendan Mess, were murdered along with their friend Raphael Teken on September 11, 2011, in Waltham. All three were found with their throats slit, marijuana sprinkled over the bodies, and $5,000 in cash still in the room.
The case remains unsolved. But last May, the FBI has claimed, a Chechen national named Ibragim Todashev implicated himself and alleged marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev in the murdersâ€”just before the FBI shot Todashev to death. In recent days, Todashevâ€™s live-in girlfriend has been arrested and threatened with deportationâ€”evidently in retaliation for an interview she gave to me that challenged the FBIâ€™s version of events. Officially, however, there have been no details and no developments in the case. The triple-murder victimsâ€™ families have told me that they are increasingly frustrated by the lack of information they are receiving about the investigation.
And so, on September 19, Aria and Dylan invited me to accompany them to the Garden of Peace ceremony, where they planned to ask Coakley about the murders of their brothers. Ariaâ€™s brother Erik Weissman was also a friend of mine, and at the time of his death my father was representing him in a drug case. After the ceremony, I went with Aria and Dylan to speak to the attorney general. All of us wanted to ask Coakley why there’s been a lack of progress on the local investigations of the murdersâ€”and the FBI shooting of the man who may have been the last living witness to the crime. â€śWe havenâ€™t been getting any answers,â€ť Weissman told Coakley.
Coakley was calm and respectful, and stayed to answer our questions. â€śI know how frustrating and how difficult it is for you,â€ť Coakley told us. But she was clearly caught off guard. At one point during the conversation, she turned to her chief of staff and referred to the triple slaying as a â€śshooting.â€ť
â€śHow about a further investigation just on the Waltham triple murder, not so much what happened in Florida but just whatâ€™s going on here?â€ť said Mess. Coakley replied that the triple murder was not her investigationÂâ€”it was the Middlesex District Attorneyâ€™s concern. (Stephanie Guyotte, a spokesperson from the Middlesex DAâ€™s office, declined to comment for this story.)
In the week after our exchange, I asked a number of lawyers whether Coakleyâ€™s claim is accurate. Evidently, it is not. Technically, the lawyers tell me, Coakley could choose to get involved in the case if she wished. According to Massachusetts General Law statute 12 section 27, Coakley could take over any investigation handled by a Massachusetts District Attorney. The law states that the attorney general and the district attorney â€śmay interchange official dutiesâ€ť and â€śthe attorney general, when present, shall have the controlâ€ť of all criminal and civil cases in the Commonwealth.
At the time, however, we took Coakley at her word. She said that she could and would follow up to make sure state police were working with Waltham police on the murder case. â€śThe Waltham PD and the State Police should be working together,â€ť she told us.
But nearly two weeks later, Detective Patrick Hart of the Waltham Police, who has been investigating the triple murder since before the Boston Marathon bombings, says his department has not been contacted by Coakleyâ€™s office. â€śNo one here knows,â€ť he said. â€śI think I would have been told.â€ť
Coakley, in essence, urged Aria and Dylan to be patient. In Florida, prosecutor Jeff Ashton has promised an independent investigation of the Todashev shootingâ€”but the FBIâ€™s internal investigation has to be completed first. â€śThe FBI has to finish its investigation, the Florida DA will do its investigation, just as if that happened up here,â€ť Coakley told us.
Though two Massachusetts state troopers were reportedly present the day Todashev was shot, Coakley insisted that the FBI killing in Florida is out of her jurisdiction. â€śIâ€™m certainly not trying to hide the FBI,â€ť she told us. â€śIâ€™m not trying to cover up anything. I wish that I could do more.â€ť
I later spoke to Matt Segal, the legal director for the Massachusetts ACLU, who rejected Coakleyâ€™s statement that the Orlando shooting was out of her jurisdiction. â€śThere should be oversight of state troopers even when they are sent across state lines,â€ť he said. Either the FBI has â€śshut outâ€ť Coakleyâ€™s office, he said, or Coakley has chosen not to investigate. â€śWe continue to think there are very strong reasons why what happened in Florida should interest officials here,â€ť he added. â€śWe think they should investigate unless they canâ€™t, and if they canâ€™t they ought to tell us that they canâ€™t.â€ť
When we spoke to Coakley after the ceremony, she admitted that she had not been in touch directly with the Florida District Attorney, but that she could beâ€”and that she would be after our conversation. Two weeks later, Coakley’s office had not placed that call. “Mr. Ashton has not had any contact from or with the MA Attorney General,” said Ashton’s Chief Assistant Richard Wallsh in an email.
Coakleyâ€™s press secretary Brad Puffer did not return a call seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the victimsâ€™ family and friends are still waiting for answers. About a week after we went to see Coakley, Aria Weissman told me that Welford had called to say that a victims advocate from the Middlesex District Attorneyâ€™s office would be in touch with her. One week later, that call hasnâ€™t come. â€śItâ€™s not very comforting,â€ť said Weissman.
Source URL: http://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/blog/2013/10/03/martha-coakley-promise-waltham-triple-murder-victim-families/