The Many Trials of Mr. Homicide

Mr. Homicide was back in court again. He was up on the witness
stand, his hair flawless, his cop mustache, too. He'd made a career up
there, maybe even a legend. His
testimony over the past 13 years
had helped convict dozens of the area's worst killers. Striking in his
tailored gray suit and yellow tie, he eased back in his chair,
stretched an arm across the table, and looked out over the hushed
Boston courtroom. “Good afternoon, your honor, good afternoon, members
of the jury,” he said. “My name is Daniel Keeler.” Even from far away
you could see his eyes shine. He was home.

Keeler was in court to testify about his investigation of the murder
of Geoffrey Douglas, a 16-year-old high school student who was shot to
death at the Fields Corner T station. Keeler is not a tall man, but
he's powerfully built, trim and square. As a young man he served in the
Marines, and at 54 he looks like he could reenlist tomorrow and skip
boot camp. He moves with a reined-in freneticism that makes him appear
almost to quiver. He gets red just talking about the punks he's
arrested, thinking about their robbing, torturing, killing.

After Keeler was sworn in, Assistant District Attorney Dennis
Collins led him through a series of questions about the case. He wanted
to know how long Keeler had served in the police department, what time
he arrived at the T station on the day of the murder, when his partners
got there, what orders he gave to secure the crime scene. They were not
the sort of probing questions prosecutors used to ask Keeler, back when
his word could win cases. But the detective was in the middle of a
troubling losing streak, and, rather than ask him to win the case, it
seemed as though Collins simply didn't want him to blow it.

Keeler hardly noticed. He answered loudly and clearly, looking
directly at the jurors. He spoke with an exaggerated articulateness, as
in, “If Mr. Douglas had survived his wounds, this case would have
remained with the transportation police.” He appeared, almost, to be
having fun.

Collins quickly finished up and surrendered Keeler to defense
attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, who marched past the lectern where
lawyers typically stand and stationed herself in front of the jury box.
There was a history with these two — an earlier courtroom exchange
between them left Keeler's reputation permanently damaged — and it
showed. Not bothering with even a cursory salutation, Scapicchio
launched into her attack. Did the detective know the victim was
carrying a knife? That one of his friends scooped up the weapon from
the subway platform and sneaked it out of the station? Did he question
the woman who eventually turned the knife over to police? When Keeler
answered, Scapicchio cut off any attempts to elaborate. “Yes or no,
Detective Keeler?” she'd demand. “Yes or no?” To which Keeler would
look at Judge Margot Botsford and implore, “Can I finish my answer?”
The volume and the hostility kept rising. The judge kept grimacing and
rubbing her forehead.

Scapicchio began to pace as she shot her questions. Keeler's cheeks
grew crimson. He responded with sarcasm, even indignation. Did the
police do any testing on the knife's sheath? “Test it for what, ma'am?
What would I want to test it for?” Did anything in the investigation
violate the police department's conflict-of-interest rule? “I believe
you're either misunderstanding or misrepresenting the rule.”
Dramatically, he lifted the department's book of regulations. “Ma'am,
here's the rule book. Tell me where it says that.” Judge Botsford
called for order.

Keeler has always had that impetuous streak, always had his share of
blowups with bosses, colleagues, and lawyers. It's the other side of
his supreme aplomb, and it probably conveyed a certain charm in the
past. But things have changed in Boston. It's not the same police
department anymore, and not the same prosecutor's office, either. And
though he sometimes seems unaware of it, or perhaps just disbelieving,
it's really not even the same Danny Keeler.

A string of high-profile cases that rested on his work has melted
into acquittals. He's become damaged goods — or maybe a convenient
scapegoat. And things may yet get a lot worse, for him and for the
Suffolk County District Attorney's Office. One former prosecutor
estimates that as many as 30 upcoming homicide trials involve Keeler;
Scapicchio says it's more like 90. Whatever the number, those cases
could now be jeopardized, and Danny Keeler is going to find his work,
and himself, under public scrutiny for a long, long time.

“He was Mr. Homicide,” Scapicchio says later. “The reason he got the
reputation was that he closed cases. It wasn't until recently that
people started asking how.”

Keeler lived for the Boston Police Department's Homicide Unit.
Everyone knew that. He golfed a bit, but what he mostly did was work.
Nearly $90,000 of the $150,000 he earned in 2003 came from overtime. He
had special sympathy for the families of murdered children, perhaps
because he has three kids of his own. He'd give his cell number to
parents, listen at 3 a.m. when they were drunk and furious and just
needed to talk. “In cases that drag on for years without an arrest, he
still takes the call,” says one officer who knows him. “He talks to
them for half an hour. That's the kind of emphasis he puts on the job.”

Homicide was who Keeler was. You get addicted to that kind of
adrenaline, calling the shots, making snap decisions, the thrill of the
hunt. He seemed to arrive at the crime scene the moment Homicide owned
the case. And from the second he got there, he was thinking about

He knew just the sort of evidence the district attorney needed to
win a guilty verdict. He'd work the streets in his crisp suits,
barking, jiving, hustling like Al Pacino in Heat. He'd find
witnesses who could pick the suspects out of a photo lineup. He might
even deliver a taped confession, finishing off his interrogation with a
flashy, prosecutorial, “I have no further questions.” Then at trial
he'd take the stand, dazzle the jury, and win the case for you. They
wrote stories about him in the newspapers, put him on TV.

They're still writing stories about Keeler these days, but with the wrong sort of headlines — the Globe
even ran an editorial specifically naming him in its criticism of the
Boston police. Some of the slam-dunk evidence he came up with over the
years has wilted. He has admitted under oath to making false statements
on a police report and in an affidavit. Worst of all, he has been
pushed out of Homicide, reassigned — nobody wants to call it a demotion
— to supervising detectives in the Fenway and Back Bay neighborhoods. A
change in leadership at the police department and the Suffolk County
District Attorney's Office has left him without the sort of political
cover he'd had in the past.

Keeler's defenders insist he's simply taking the rap for the DA's
office, becoming a convenient punching bag for defense attorneys. They
have a point. It's true Keeler provides a built-in line of attack when
the defense may not have much else, and a fall guy for a prosecution
that lost more than half the murder cases it tried last year. “It's a
political office,” notes one former prosecutor, “and it can be
convenient to have someone else to blame for failures.” Keeler himself
says he's the victim of a smear campaign. “Not once have I been shown
to lie under oath, to manipulate evidence, to have perjured myself,” he
says. “My record is thorough.” Keeler says he voluntarily left

Fair or not, the DA's office should be worried that even the mention
of Keeler's name in court could cripple cases. “I wouldn't call it
panic, but they're going to have to figure out how to defuse it,” a
former prosecutor in the office says of the Keeler problem. “I'm sure
they're concerned.”

But Keeler's not going anywhere. Despite the potential harm to their
cases, prosecutors are going to keep calling him to testify. They know
that if they don't, defense lawyers will. And no prosecutor wants to
explain to a jury why the defense is more eager than the state to call
the lead police investigator.

For better or worse, Keeler has always had a talent for getting his
name known. He'd been on the job for only a year when, in 1980, he
leapt 60 feet off the Boston University Bridge following a despondent
man trying to drown himself in the Charles River. There were troubling
signs of his temper back then — like the time in 1986 when, according
to internal affairs reports, he was reprimanded for shooting out the
tire of a Camaro he thought was attempting to back over his partner; or
in 1980 when, police documents show, he was suspended for four days
after he and another off-duty cop “verbally and physically” harassed a
group of women working at a bar — but they didn't do much to hinder his
advancement. He was promoted to sergeant in 1989. Three years later, he
made sergeant detective and joined what he calls “the ultimate
challenge,” Homicide. Typically, he arrived with dramatic flair,
helping to crack a 25-year-old case. It wasn't long before he was
leading a squad of his own, one that seemed always to grab the
most-talked-about murders in town.

So when ABC News approached Mayor Tom Menino with plans for a
documentary chronicling the life of public servants, Keeler was chosen
to represent the police department. The producers of Boston 24/7
wanted characters with swagger, charisma. Keeler delivered. His
performance captured the thrilling life of a big-city cop. It also
provided a revealing look at Keeler on the job.

In March 2001, he and his team brought the 24/7 cameras to
a cluttered Eastie apartment where a man named Billy Leyden had found
his brother stuffed under a bed, murdered and missing his head. Keeler
stepped dramatically into a white biohazard suit and walked into the
apartment, battling the nauseating stench. “You can only work with the
evidence,” he said. “There's no room for creativity in Homicide. You
start to get creative and it quickly is gonna translate to trouble.”

Keeler said the victim, Jackie Leyden, had died from a single stab
wound, and that the decapitation had occurred after he was already
dead. When Keeler heard that Billy Leyden had visited the apartment
three times in the weeks before the discovery of the body, he called
him in for questioning. “It's inconceivable how someone could sit in
that apartment drinking beers and also be knowing that the occupant of
the apartment is missing at the time,” he said in the documentary.

As the investigation progressed, Keeler developed a theory that
Billy had decapitated his brother and taken the head away in the trunk
of his car. “In a crime like this,” he said, “intuition helps, but I
think experience is what's gonna guide you.” To test the theory, an
officer dressed all in black led a German shepherd to the rear of
Billy's Honda Civic, which had been towed to police headquarters.
Keeler and his squad stood several yards away, arms folded. Suddenly,
the dog began pawing frantically at the trunk.

“Ooooooooooh, she's on it!” Keeler said excitedly. The dog began
jumping against the doors of the car. “Ooooo-hoooo-hooooo!” he howled,
slapping hands with colleagues. Police later discovered traces of DNA
in the trunk. The genetic material came back as a match for Jackie
Leyden. Billy Leyden was arrested. Officers led him away, handcuffed,
down a long hallway. The screen filled with Keeler's sorrow-lined face,
his eyes deep-set and serious. “Why he did it, I wouldn't even attempt
to explain it,” he said. “You're gonna have to go back to Freud, see if
you can pull him out of the grave. Maybe he can offer some insight into
it, but it's got to be some rage there. That's the key ingredient:
rage. What happened afterward, the decapitation, was done to confuse
us. He did it to throw us off. He was almost successful.”

But to conclude that Billy Leyden was guilty, here is what Keeler
had to dismiss as insignificant: That a man named Eugene McCollom
fought with Jackie Leyden at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting eight
months before the murder. That McCollom and Jackie Leyden shared beers
at Leyden's apartment the night of the murder. That the Leyden brothers
were close, so it would probably have been odd if Jackie's DNA had not shown up in Billy's car. Those facts would, in time, become startlingly significant.

About a year after Jackie Leyden's murder, Keeler was called to a
shooting in a Dorchester apartment. A man claiming to be a police
officer had knocked on the door, then attempted to force his way in.
During a struggle, police said, the intruder fired a gun and killed
three-year-old Malik Andrade-Percival, who was inside. James Bush was
eventually arrested and charged with the murder. In a sworn statement
Keeler wrote that he videotaped the crime scene, and in his police
report he wrote that his partner, Detective Dennis Harris, accompanied
him to the shooting and helped interview witnesses.

Nearly three years later, Bush was finally set to go to trial.
That's when the DA's office filed a remarkable request with Judge
Christine McEvoy, one that showed just how worried prosecutors were
about Keeler. They knew Scapicchio, who was defending Bush, was on to
problems with his report and affidavit.

It's common for lawyers to ask that the opposition be barred from
telling jurors about a witness's past, typically when that person has a
criminal record. Almost unheard of, however, is for the lead police
investigator to be the witness in question. Yet there is Keeler's name,
just after that of a convicted criminal, in court papers asking the
judge to prevent the defense from bringing up “prior bad acts” during
the trial.

“It was somewhat of a joke,” says Scapicchio. “Are you kidding me?
You want to preclude me from cross-examining the case agent as to lies
that he told? It's an unprecedented position for them to put their
chief investigating officer in.” Jöelle Moreno, who teaches criminal
law at the New England School of Law, agrees the move was unusual. “It
seems indicative of the extreme level of concern that the prosecutor's
office has with Detective Keeler's credibility,” Moreno says. “What is
different about this case is that it is a preemptive strike [by the
prosecution]. It is odd on its face because it does read as though
you're bunching Keeler with men who may have criminal records.”

The case went to trial in November. Scapicchio was about to begin
her questioning of Keeler when, she claims, “He winked at me! It just
made me furious. He's so damn cocky, he does things like that.” Keeler
denies the incident ever took place. “Christ's sake,” he says, “that's
juvenile.” Regardless, what followed was a scathing cross-examination —
one interrupted several times by Judge McEvoy to demand civility in her
courtroom — in which Scapicchio got Keeler to admit something he has
been forced to drag behind him like a ball and chain ever since: While
investigating the murder, he wrote false statements into the police
report and a sworn affidavit. There actually was no videotape of the
crime scene, he admitted from the stand, because the video camera's
battery had died. As for his partner joining him at the apartment,
Detective Harris had already testified he was off-duty that night.

Scapicchio also made it a point to tell the jury about Keeler's role
in the investigation of the 1994 killing of Jermaine Goffigan, a
nine-year-old boy hit by a stray bullet during a gang shootout. Police
identified Donnell Johnson, then 16, as their prime suspect. Keeler
spent 45 minutes interviewing the boy, who claimed he was home watching
football at the time of the shooting. Johnson's parents were present
during the interview and verified his statements. When it came time for
trial, however, police and the prosecution claimed Johnson had refused
to speak with investigators. Johnson was convicted and served five
years before he was freed in 1999 after it became clear that
eyewitnesses had misidentified him. He sued Keeler and Detective
William Mahoney, the lead investigator, claiming they had withheld
evidence that would have exonerated him. Judge Morris Lasker ruled
against Johnson, but called his allegations “deeply troubling.” Mahoney
was suspended without pay for 30 days. Keeler was not disciplined.

Scapicchio insists Keeler has only himself to blame for his problems
at trial. It's almost too easy with him, she says. He gets worked up,
angry, when he's questioned on the stand. “That attitude doesn't play
very well with a jury,” she says. “He gets into such a pissing contest.
That's exactly what happened with the Bush trial. He walked right into

Bush was ultimately acquitted, and ” lied under oath” has
evermore been attached to Keeler's name. That development angers him to
this day. He says the incident was nothing more than a
misunderstanding, one he claims Scapicchio and others have deliberately
blown out of proportion. “This isn't a case where I lied,” he says. “I
made a mistake. I was sleep deprived at the time. I made a mistake. To
take that, out of 200 homicides that I've done . . . . ”

Several jurors believed that Bush actually committed the murder, according to the Herald,
but felt that investigators didn't come up with evidence to prove it.
One juror singled out Keeler for criticism. “He needs to do his job
better,” she told the paper . “They didn't take fingerprints. They messed this entire case up and that's what makes me mad.”

Lawyers are always comparing notes, sharing information. These days,
says defense attorney Stephen Hrones, it's Keeler they're talking
about. “The word's out there,” says Hrones, who recently tried
unsuccessfully to sue the detective for slander. “Now the whole defense
bar knows his name.”

In February, Eugene McCollom confessed in court to killing Jackie
Leyden. By then, Billy Leyden had been fired from his job and retreated
into virtual seclusion, but at least he managed to stay out of prison,
posting bail while the case meandered through the legal system. Leyden
remains furious at Keeler, according to attorney Stephen Reardon, who
is Leyden's brother-in-law. “Naturally, the person who found the body
is somebody they're going to want to talk to,” Reardon says. “But they
did nothing after that. They ignored anything that led them away from
Billy.” Leyden sued Keeler and ABC for libel last month.

Keeler says it's absurd to blame him for Leyden. He points out that
his bosses in the Homicide Unit had to sign off on the case. And it was
the DA's office that chose to seek an indictment. “A grand jury
indicted Leyden, not Danny Keeler,” he says. “To lay that in my lap
just isn't a realistic assessment of how that process went down.”

Keeler and others who know him insist he tried to get out of the filming of Boston 24/7,
that he was ordered by his superiors to let the cameras follow him. In
any case, the McCollom confession came in the middle of a flood of bad
news for prosecutors in cases involving the detective: One of two men
accused of killing 14-year-old Chauntae Jones walked in April of last
year despite confessing on tape to Keeler that he was present when the
young woman was murdered. Of the two men charged with the 2002 shooting
of 10-year-old Trina Persad, one was acquitted in December and the
other will have to be tried again after the judge declared a mistrial.
And the two men charged with murdering Geoffrey Douglas — Aderito
Barbosa and John Monteiro — were each convicted of illegal possession
of a firearm and assault, but acquitted of murder.

Keeler's friends are correct when they point out that some of those
failures have nothing to do with him. Anyone who has listened to Kyle
Bryant's chilling confession in the Chauntae Jones case, for instance,
would find it hard to blame Keeler for the innocent verdict. That case
continues to haunt Keeler more than a year later, and he seems
genuinely bewildered that he, rather than the DA's office, has somehow
come to own the acquittal. “A mountain of evidence, two confessions,
and they can't get a conviction?” he says.

But none of that really matters. Emboldened by the recent
acquittals, defense attorneys are now, in effect, putting Keeler on
trial right along with their clients. Scapicchio tries to make the
detective's past an issue every time she defends someone in a Keeler
case. Judges don't always grant that request, but it's worth a try. As
a former prosecutor points out, “If it goes to his veracity [as a
witness], the judge would probably let it in.” And once it's in, it can
change the course of a trial.

At first, the DA's office apparently tried to avoid the Keeler
problem altogether by simply declining to present him as a witness, but
defense attorneys found a way to turn that approach to their advantage,
too. “We had a case about a year ago and they didn't call Keeler,”
Hrones says. “So we called him. That's the new tactic.” It's
gotten so bad, Scapicchio claims, that the prosecution doesn't even
like to use the “K” word anymore. “When we get a case that involves
Keeler's squad, it's now referred to as 'Squad 4,'” she says.

Not every Keeler case is a problem for the DA's office, of course.
Some have enough solid evidence beyond his testimony that they can be
confidently prosecuted. Others, however, may depend on under-oath
statements coming directly out of Keeler's mouth. In those cases, a
former prosecutor says, judges will be more likely to allow the defense
to bring up the past false statements. And if that happens, if the jury
is allowed to hear about the Bush case, it could jeopardize otherwise
spotless prosecutions. It's tough enough to get a conviction in Boston,
where, as in most cities, juries are much more skeptical of police work
than they are in the Wonder Bread suburbs. “There's a very good chance
you're going to have [a juror] that just doesn't like cops,” says one
former prosecutor. “It can really derail your case. If they have any
reason to doubt the integrity of the police, they will doubt it.”

Scapicchio says the DA's office could solve the problem by having
another homicide detective go back and reinvestigate the most
vulnerable cases. But that will never happen. “That would mean the DA's
office would have to say they didn't believe him,” she says.

Of course, there's another way to look at Keeler's tumble. Defense
attorney Barry Wilson, who recently won an acquittal for a client
charged with murder in a Keeler case, says the detective has been made
a patsy to cover poor performances by the DA's office. “It's
self-preservation,” he says. “The DA is an elected office — blame it on
somebody. Everybody's pissing on everybody else. Remember one thing:
Even if his cases suck, [the DA's] bringing them.”

The way a lot of cops see it, the DA's office is to blame for all
the not-guilty verdicts. “He's being railroaded,” says one officer who
knows Keeler. “Part of why he's damaged goods is because the DA and the
police department never stood up for him. There is no one that has come
out against Danny Keeler and his work that does not have an agenda.”

The turning point came when the Homicide Unit was shaken up last
year, two months after new Police Commissioner Kathleen O'Toole took
over. Keeler was out. It's rumored the move was orchestrated by
District Attorney Daniel Conley and his chief homicide prosecutor,
David Meier, who'd had enough of Keeler's baggage. Meier initially
expressed interest in commenting for this article but later stopped
returning phone calls.

Keeler's friends insist he works as hard and passionately as ever in
his new job supervising other detectives, but, really, how could it be
the same? Chasing killers lends a unique kind of purpose to your life.
It delivers glory, first-name recognition from crime writers,
producers, and politicians. And holy shit, the excitement.

But it starts to weigh on you over the years, that hunger to punish,
to deliver justice for the wronged. Then it consumes you, maybe even
blinds you. “You've got to be able to put that shit down,” says a
Keeler acquaintance. “When you see somebody that's done something
that's really evil, you want to make that person accountable. I don't
know if you've ever seen a dead kid — that kind of thing, if you can't
turn it off when you go home, it's like a flesh-eating bacteria.”

It's like Keeler himself told the ABC News crew: “God's the only
person that can take somebody's life. He's the only person that has the
right. So, if someone's killed, I need to know who's responsible for
this. That's important. It's real important.”

Barry Wilson, the defense attorney, says cops are always the
dinosaurs, always the last to know that everything has changed, that
nothing will ever be the same. It doesn't much matter anymore whether
Keeler is a bad cop or just the victim of cover-your-ass maneuvering.
He can count his time to retirement in months rather than years now,
and, as a colleague concedes, “he's not gonna get a plum job, or get

to Homicide.”

Of course, Keeler has never needed anyone else to speak for him. The
way he sees it, he's been let down by the very people who were supposed
to be looking out for him, the very people he's been loyal to for more
than a quarter-century. “After 26 years and a couple of hundred cases,
that my name can be assaulted, without cause . . . ,” he says. “The
lack of foundational support is apparent. It's disheartening. Guys come
up to me all the time — 'Oh, look what they did to you.'”

Right or wrong, the days of big-shot Danny Keeler have passed. Mr. Homicide is over and done with.