The Supreme Judicial Court today upheld a man's conviction for sucker-punching another man in the face at a Roxbury community center, ruling he got a fair hearing from all his jurors, including one who was blind.
Also, the court ruled, the victim sure did suffer the "serious bodily injury" Lawrence Heywood was charged with causing - the man now has permanent numbness on the right side of his face and has to apply warm compresses there before he goes out in the cold because of the titanium plates surgeons had to implant to put his cheekbone back together.
At issue was an incident on May 27, 2015, at a team-selection event for an over-45 men's basketball league at the Shelburne Community Center on Washington Street in Roxbury.
Suffolk County prosecutors say that Heywood, upset at being expelled from the league a couple months earlier for refusing to pay fees and threatening his coach over the fees, showed up, asked to speak to the coach and then sucker-punched him in the face - and was winding up to punch him again when bystanders grabbed him. The punch fractured the victim's cheek bone, orbital bone around his eye and caused retinal bleeding, according to the court's summary of the case.
A Roxbury Municipal Court jury convicted Heywood of assault and battery causing serious injury and he was sentenced to 18 months in jail.
In his appeal, Heywood's attorney argued that while justice may be blind, jurors shouldn't be, at least not in this case, both because of the photos and because having other jurors read medical records to the juror risked introducing "extraneous" information.
But the state's highest court ruled that the judge in the case did nothing wrong putting the blind man on the jury after an interview and after considering the planned defense - that Heywood did not dispute punching the victim but that he claimed he did not cause "serious bodily injury" - and the expected evidence, much of which consisted of medical records that other jurors read to the blind one:
This decision [to seat the juror] was entirely appropriate. Because the identification of the perpetrator was not in question, the jury had to determine only whether the victim suffered serious bodily injury. As the injuries suffered by the victim were not visible at the time of trial, the ability to see the victim's face during his testimony was not essential to reaching a verdict. Similarly, because of the internal nature of the injuries and subsequent surgery, photographs of the victim's face taken close in time to the assault would not have assisted the jury in determining whether the victim suffered serious bodily injury as defined by G. L. c. 265, § 13A (c). On the other hand, the juror had appropriate access to the testimony of the victim and the medical records, which were directly relevant to the question whether the victim suffered serious bodily injury. Here, the medical records, rather than the photographs, provided the critical evidence upon which the jury could find serious bodily injury. Because in this instance the photographic evidence would not have materially assisted the jury in determining serious bodily injury, seating juror no. 6 was well within the judge's discretion. Contrast Susi, 394 Mass. at 786 (empanelment of blind juror constituted reversible error where identification of perpetrator was contested, and ability to compare visually physical evidence was required).
Equally important, the SJC said, Heywood's trial lawyer didn't object to the juror before the trial, so an appeal of a guilty verdict is a bit too late to start raising the question.
The court similarly dismissed Heywood's contention that the victim's injuries weren't really all that bad.
The state law on "serious bodily injury" discusses both "permanent disfigurement" and "impairment of a bodily function" and the victim suffered both, the court ruled.
The defendant argues that a permanent disfigurement occurs only when there is a visible, significant, and permanent change in a person's outward appearance or, in the alternative, scarring. We disagree. Although the trier of fact certainly may consider visible evidence, the fact an injury can be or was concealed or repaired does not preclude a finding of permanent disfigurement. ...
Here, we conclude that the evidence presented at trial was sufficient for the jury to have found permanent disfigurement. The medical records and the victim's testimony detailed the number and extent of the fractures which compromised the integrity of the victim's face. The computed tomography scan of the victim's face and jaw showed a "blowout" fracture of his right orbital socket, as well as fractures to his cheekbone and other facial bones. The victim testified that there was a visible indentation in his face after the defendant's punch. The medical records indicate that surgery was required to correct and repair the anatomical structure of the victim's face. The operative report noted that the fracture was mobile and required the surgeons to affix titanium plates to the bones in the victim's face to hold the bone structure together and to ensure that the bones remained stable. Although the titanium plates conceal the visible evidence of the disfigurement, they are attached permanently to the bones in the victim's face. Therefore, the evidence was sufficient for a reasonable and rational jury to have found a permanent disfigurement.
As for impairment, the court ruled:
"Impairment of a bodily function" similarly is not defined in the statute; however, we previously interpreted the phrase to mean "a part or system of the body [that] is significantly impeded in its ability to fulfil its role." Scott, 464 Mass. at 359. Unlike disfigurement, an impairment of a bodily function need not be permanent to constitute serious bodily injury. Marinho, 464 Mass. at 118. Here, according to the medical records and the victim's testimony at trial, the nerve damage in the victim's right cheek resulted in chronic numbness in that area of his face. He described the lack of sensation as feeling like he had been given novocaine. The inability of the affected nerves to communicate properly with the brain indicates an impairment of a bodily function, namely, the victim's peripheral nervous system. ... We note that, based on the evidence presented, it was unclear whether the numbness that the victim experienced was a result of the physical assault (delayed onset), surgery, or a combination of the two. However, "[t]he Commonwealth may establish causation in an assault and battery case by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant either directly caused or directly and substantially set in motion a chain of events that produced the serious injury in a natural and continuous sequence" (quotations and citation omitted). Marinho, 464 Mass. at 119.