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Man who drove car from which passengers fatally and repeatedly shot somebody in Dorchester deserves his murder conviction even if he didn't pull the trigger, court says

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld Odell Sanders's conviction for a July 25, 2018 gunfire attack on an Audi on Norfolk Street in Dorchester that left Jorge Baez dead and his brother permanently blinded.

A Suffolk Superior Court jury had convicted Sanders for second-degree murder - which carries a life sentence with the possibility of parole - and other crimes even though the passengers in his car were never identified, and even though Sanders himself did not fire any of the shots from the Honda he was driving.

The jury rejected Sanders's contention that the Baez brothers had fired first and that, in any case, he didn't know that the other two men in the car - one of whom he said he didn't tell police about until after he knew that guy himself was dead - were planning on executing at least one of the Baez brothers. Such knowledge is a required component of a "joint venture" murder conviction, in which somebody is convicted for a murder even if he did not do the actual killing. In fact, Sanders claimed, after offering to drive the two men home to Hyde Park, one of them put a gun in his stomach and ordered him to follow the Audi.

In its ruling today, the appeals court said there was enough evidence that Sanders should have known what was going to happen, because he maneuvered his vehicle in such a way that the other two men in his car could first identify the occupants of the Audi and then drew the car close enough that they could open fire - some 16 times. Also, there was no evidence of any guns or gunfire from the Audi, unlike the spent shells found inside the Honda - and damage indicating shots had been fired from inside the vehicle.

The defendant argues that his conduct could have reflected an intent merely to engage in another verbal altercation with the occupants of the Audi, as had occurred earlier on Blue Hill Avenue. That argument is belied by the circumstances present here. The shooting occurred moments after the defendant brought the Honda to a screeching stop in the oncoming traffic lane next to, but slightly behind, the Audi as it was stopped. No words were exchanged before the shots were fired. Though there was no direct evidence presented during the Commonwealth's case that the defendant knew his companions were armed, the number and variety of weapons used in the attack supports a reasonable inference that the defendant knew his companions were armed. Taken together, the evidence supports the inference of a coordinated, deadly attack that required that the driver of the Honda shared the intent to carry it out.

The court summarized what happened after Jorge and Ashby Baez left the Franklin Field development, shortly before 11 p.m., after visiting some friends.

The brothers traveled down Westview Street and turned right onto Blue Hill Avenue. While stopped at a traffic light on Blue Hill Avenue, a silver Honda CRV (Honda) driven by the defendant pulled alongside the driver's side of the Audi. A passenger in the back seat of the Honda asked Jorge where he was from. Jorge did not respond to the inquiry; instead, he drove away and took a right turn down Talbot Avenue. Video footage from the area showed the Honda following the Audi thereafter for approximately four to five minutes.

Both vehicles ended up on Norfolk Street where several witnesses, including an off-duty Boston police officer, were standing on the street. They observed the Audi speed down the street, with the Honda following closely behind. The Audi came to a stop at a traffic light. The witnesses then heard the screech of the Honda's tires as it pulled over the double yellow line into the oncoming lane of traffic and stopped next to the driver's side of the Audi, slightly to its rear. "Moments later," gunshots rang out. In the span of less than four seconds, sixteen shots were fired from the Honda toward the Audi. No words were exchanged before the shots were fired. The driver's side rear passenger window and the front passenger side window of the Audi were shot out, but the front driver's side window was intact. The Honda then drove away down Norfolk Street. Ballistics analysis of bullets and cartridge cases recovered from the scene later revealed that at least three guns were used to fire on the Audi: a nine millimeter Luger, a .25 caliber automatic, and a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson.

The witnesses to the shooting came to the aid of the occupants of the Audi. Jorge had been shot in the left side of his torso, and was ultimately declared dead at the scene. Ashby suffered a gunshot wound to his left temple and was transported to the hospital for treatment. He is permanently blind in both eyes as a result of his injuries.

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