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Court upholds Dorchester man's jail sentence for killing a bicyclist on Morrissey Boulevard while driving drunk

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld Michael Ahern's 18-month sentence for crashing his pickup into Doan Bui's bicycle on Morrissey Boulevard in 2012, sending the man, returning home from a fishing trip, 150 feet into the air and killing him.

A Suffolk Superior Court judge had ordered the sentence, which came after a 2014 trial, overturned, ruling a Suffolk County prosecutor had improperly used Ahern's attorney's decision not to call a particular witness as part of his closing argument that Ahern was guilty felony motor vehicle homicide of the death of Bui, 63.

But in its ruling today, the appeals court overturned the reversal, saying the prosecutor did nothing wrong and noting that Ahern's trial attorney, an "experienced defense counsel" did not object at the time.

In its summary of the evidence, the court said that Ahern, owner of Dorchester Lower Mills's Sweet Life Bakery and Cafe, had been drinking the afternoon and night of Sept. 13, 2012, starting with an Amstel Light at one restaurant and ending with him sharing champagne at Slate Bar & Grill on High Street with the manager there, who thought he was one of the co-owners, only it turned out he wasn't.

Videotape footage (video) from the establishment showed the defendant switching the glasses, taking Smith's [the manager's] partially full glass, and drinking what was left in the glass. He then appeared to finish drinking what was in the bottle of champagne by tipping it upwards and emptying its contents. At around 11 P.M., Smith went back to the bar area of the restaurant, and the defendant moved from his table to the bar. Smith then opened a second bottle of champagne and poured a glass for the defendant.

Around midnight, Ahern left the bar. The narrative then continues at 12:15 a.m., about four miles to the south, on Morrissey Boulevard near Malibu Beach:

Shortly after 12:15 A.M., Boston Police Officer Marilynne Gaffey noticed the defendant's pickup truck stopped on the side of Morrissey Boulevard in the Dorchester section of Boston. She also saw the victim, Doan Bui, and his bicycle lying in the road. She stopped, called for backup and medical assistance, and went to help the victim, who was nonresponsive. He was dressed in a black hooded sweatshirt. Emergency medical technicians (EMTs) Matthew King and Christopher Mancuso arrived soon after Gaffey and determined that the victim was dead. ...

A State Police collision analyst later determined that the defendant's truck had hit Bui from the rear, when Bui was traveling on a bicycle in a straight line on the right hand side of the road. At the time, the defendant was traveling at least fifty miles per hour; the collision knocked the victim's body 154 feet from the point of impact. The speed limit in that portion of the road was thirty miles per hour.

The EMTs who helped and transported him - one of whom had spent five years working as a bartender - the state troopers who arrived on scene and doctors at the Boston Medical Center who treated him, all concluded he was heavily intoxicated, base in part by the strong odor of alcohol coming from him, and from the ambulance after EMTs opened its doors at the hospital ambulance bay.

In his opening statement, the court continues, Ahern's attorney promised the jury testimony from one of Slate's owners, who was a business partner with Ahern, that the two had spent much of the evening - from 6 until 10 p.m. - in a community meeting, at which no alcohol was served.

In fact, the defense never called Feeney to testify, because counsel learned midway through trial that the defendant was not one of the owners of Slate; as a result, it was counsel's belief that, if Feeney testified, that information would discredit the defendant. As a result, the jury never heard any evidence regarding the defendant's activities between approximately 6 P.M. and 9:48 P.M. on the night in question.

And this is where Ahern's appeal began. The prosecutor in the case reminded the jury of the promise to have the business partner testify - and the fact that he did not:

Last week [defense counsel] stood up in front of you and told you you'd receive some evidence about where Michael Ahern was between [5] P.M. and [9:48] P.M. You didn't receive any of that evidence. The only thing you heard is that he dropped off Mary Pierce after they were at a bar sometime around [5:45] or [6] P.M.

You know at [5] P.M. he was at Sel Delaterre and he was drinking and the next time he pops up on the grid, it's [9:48] P.M. and he's at a bar and he's drinking. That's all you know about his whereabouts. Apply your common sense. When you do that, when you're diligent and you go through the video, you're going to notice a couple of things and I'm going to ask you very specifically how to do this.

Pull this television up to the table. Sit around it, all of you. Take out a piece of paper, use notes, watch each video and count what goes up to his mouth, count what touches his lips.

The prosecutor then went slowly through the video evidence, pointing to each occasion where the defendant was drinking or appeared to be drinking; he encouraged the jurors to do the same thing during deliberations. There was no objection to any portion of the prosecutor's closing argument. The jury thereafter returned a verdict of guilty on the charge of homicide by a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating substance.

Ahern's new attorney argued Ahern's previous attorney should have objected to this, so provided "ineffective counsel" and that this argument was "improper burden shifting," by getting the jury to consider something that happened during the trial as proof of Ahern's guilt, rather than considering the facts of the case.

The appeals court ruled, nope. In addition to noting that Ahern's trial lawyer was "experienced," it said Massachusetts case law lets prosecutors "properly comment on the trial tactics of defence and and on evidence developed or promised by the defence" in their closing statements.

Here, defense counsel promised in his opening statement that Feeney would testify as to the defendant's whereabouts for a substantial portion of the evening; Feeney was never called. As a result, the prosecutor was entitled to note in his closing argument the absence of that evidence from the record.

The justices continued:

Furthermore, as the judge emphasized in his findings, the promised witness would not have testified to a time that was particularly relevant to the crime charged. The accident occurred at midnight, and the witness left the defendant before he walked into Slate. And, after the challenged comment, the prosecutor's argument examined the defendant's behavior at Slate in detail.

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Comments

How can you possibly take a man's life from driving drunk and ONLY get 18 months?!

That should be 18 years. Driving drunk is no accident.

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Voting closed 124

the punishment given out for drivers killing people riding bicycles always seems to be at least an order of magnitude less than it would be for killing a pedestrian or the driver of another car.

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Voting closed 23

You drive under the influence of drugs (including prescription) that cause dissociation, alcohol, etc., and you 'accidentally' kill someone, you murdered them in my book.

I've always thought that if you want to murder someone and get away with short prison time, do it with a car.

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Voting closed 72

Yup, in America a drivers license is almost functionally a license to kill. It’s disgusting.

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Voting closed 41

.... license to kill is frightening easy, thanks to our lax regulations.

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Voting closed 11

I believe the typical car apologist response is "they didn't get into their car that morning and INTEND to kill anyone." No they just intentionally drove recklessly, which resulted in someones death. bUt thEy DidnT mEaN tO KiLL aNyOne.

https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartI/TitleXIV/Chapter90/Sect...

...operates a motor vehicle recklessly or negligently so that the lives or safety of the public might be endangered, and by any such operation so described causes the death of another person, shall be guilty of homicide by a motor vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicating substance

https://statelaws.findlaw.com/massachusetts-law/massachusetts-involuntar...

Definition of "unintentionally" The defendant did intend to commit the act that ultimately caused the death of the victim, but the defendant did not intend to actually cause the death itself.

People with those attitudes serve on juries that regularly let these criminals off with little to no punishment despite damning evidence of recklessness/negligence. Honestly shocked there was even a guilty verdict.

Now the whole bit about minimum and maximum sentences is way out of knowledge but I'm really struggling to understand how a guilty verdict here only resulted in 18 months prison time.

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Voting closed 28

If we want to change this we need a PSA campaign that frames getting behind the wheel while drunk as intending to kill people.

If you intend to drive drunk you intend to kill people.

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Voting closed 15

Thus guy certainly deserves more than 18-months. But let's not start condemning all cars like everyone here is inclined to do. In this particular case, he should've been treated as any other non-premeditated murderer and gotten the equivalent time.

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Voting closed 13

I condemned motorists that drive recklessly/negligently, that ones that do so and kill people and the apologists that refuse to acknowledge the consequences of intentionally reckless/negligent operation of motor vehicles.

In this case citing MGLs (INAL of course) seems to me that Homicide by motor vehicle has its own specific section, so not sure what your point is about treating like other non-premeditated murder.

Of course I don't have to save anything, that deflection was well wide of the net.

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Voting closed 20

When someone's convicted of drunk driving, do they lose their license? I think they should lose it, but I guess maybe they don't, because you hear about "second offense" and so on.

In my opinion, an OUI conviction should result in, say, a one-year license suspension on the first offense, and a permanent revocation on the second offense, and long prison time for causing death or injury while intoxicated, or for driving without a license in the first place.

Moving on... are there any creditable studies about the impairment effects of driving while high on various other substances? Marijuana, etc... Are there any tests for these that the cops can use on a motorist, analogous to a breathalyzer or even to "let's see you walk a straight line"?

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Voting closed 8

I agree with the decision and the earlier comment that the sentence is too light. I'm confused at how the manager was under the impression that Michael Ahern was a co-owner. Did he pay for his drinks or was the manager giving him the owner comp? Was this an ongoing scheme by Ahern to get free drinks or an honest mistake by the manager? If the co-owner of Slate was a business partner of Ahern in a business other than Slate, what business was that? The bakery or something else? It's immaterial to the case but would allow consumers more info on where they spend their money.

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Voting closed 20

The person that the witness thought was at a meeting all evening wasn't the same person as the drunk murderer.

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Voting closed 4

this kinda less-complicated non-political stuff, Oafish-LOL truly shines and his contributions are of positive value. Keep em' comin' 'Fishy, just don't bloat up above your pay grade

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Voting closed 7

There is a higher chance that the defense attorney learned that the witness would not be able to testify that Ahern had not had a drink between 6pm and 10pm. It would be ineffective for counsel to believe that simply misrepresenting himself as an owner of Slate would discount the witnesses testimony. If anything, it is better not to be financially connected to a witness. As there would be a motive to lie to protect the business (or the liquor license).

I once went to a trial where one of two testifying victims changed his testimony the day of trial. It was an armed robbery case. The victim that I knew said that perps did not use a knife, they were just out numbered and robbed. He said the other victim reported the knife because he was embarrassed to be robbed. (??). Despite this chaos, the jury convicted the accused of unarmed robbery.

I believe that the witness decided not to perjure themselves for Ahern.

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Voting closed 10

They were co-owners of Ledge in Lower Mills, which is long gone.

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Voting closed 2

A whole 18 months?

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Voting closed 15

What a stupid detail to argue over.

Who cares if he spent part of the day at an alcohol-free community meeting or not? There's ample evidence that he was drunk and hit the cyclist.

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Voting closed 10

... will this dangerous menace be back behind the wheel of his pick up? Sounds like there is nothing stopping him from doing so.
18 months is a joke!

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Voting closed 16

“He has a seven-page driving record that includes multiple citations for failure to stop, speeding, and accidents. In 1992, his license was revoked as a habitual offender but reinstated two years later.”

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/10/31/dorchester-man-sentenced-dr...

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Voting closed 13

“He has a seven-page driving record that includes multiple citations for failure to stop, speeding, and accidents. In 1992, his license was revoked as a habitual offender but reinstated two years later.”

https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/10/31/dorchester-man-sentenced-dr...

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Voting closed 5

Is he going back to jail? Or has the sentence already been served? Is he or will he be driving again? This is especially relevant to me as this guy lives in my neighborhood and I regularly see a huge pickup truck parked in front of his house.

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Voting closed 3

Look up Michael Ahern's probation record for arson,18(?) years... expired just before this horrible incident.

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Voting closed 5

Justice has not been served for this family who has now lost their father and care taker to some repeat criminal. Absolutely infuriating

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Voting closed 7