Coakley Hasn’t Followed Through On Promise to Families of Waltham Triple-Murder Victims
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 murders—just before the FBI shot Todashev to death. In recent days, Todashev’s live-in girlfriend has been arrested and threatened with deportation—evidently in retaliation for an interview she gave to me that challenged the FBI’s version of events. Officially, however, there have been no details and no developments in the case. The triple-murder victims’ 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. Aria’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 murders—and the FBI shooting of the man who may have been the last living witness to the crime. “We haven’t been getting any answers,” Weissman told Coakley.
Coakley was calm and respectful, and stayed to answer our questions. “I know how frustrating and how difficult it is for you,” 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 “shooting.”
“How about a further investigation just on the Waltham triple murder, not so much what happened in Florida but just what’s going on here?” said Mess. Coakley replied that the triple murder was not her investigation—it was the Middlesex District Attorney’s concern. (Stephanie Guyotte, a spokesperson from the Middlesex DA’s office, declined to comment for this story.)
In the week after our exchange, I asked a number of lawyers whether Coakley’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 “may interchange official duties” and “the attorney general, when present, shall have the control” 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. “The Waltham PD and the State Police should be working together,” 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 Coakley’s office. “No one here knows,” he said. “I think I would have been told.”
Coakley, in essence, urged Aria and Dylan to be patient. In Florida, prosecutor Jeff Ashton has promised an independent investigation of the Todashev shooting—but the FBI’s internal investigation has to be completed first. “The FBI has to finish its investigation, the Florida DA will do its investigation, just as if that happened up here,” 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. “I’m certainly not trying to hide the FBI,” she told us. “I’m not trying to cover up anything. I wish that I could do more.”
I later spoke to Matt Segal, the legal director for the Massachusetts ACLU, who rejected Coakley’s statement that the Orlando shooting was out of her jurisdiction. “There should be oversight of state troopers even when they are sent across state lines,” he said. Either the FBI has “shut out” Coakley’s office, he said, or Coakley has chosen not to investigate. “We continue to think there are very strong reasons why what happened in Florida should interest officials here,” he added. “We think they should investigate unless they can’t, and if they can’t they ought to tell us that they can’t.”
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 be—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.
Coakley’s press secretary Brad Puffer did not return a call seeking comment.
Meanwhile, the victims’ 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 Attorney’s office would be in touch with her. One week later, that call hasn’t come. “It’s not very comforting,” said Weissman.