Timothy Kostka, convicted for the 2012 stabbing murder of a friend's mother, today lost an appeal that centered largely on what his lawyer said were irregularities in evidence related to the scratch tickets he was charged with stealing after slicing the woman's throat.
In its ruling to uphold Kostka's first-degree murder conviction, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that any problems with evidence that focused on the intricacies of encrypted numbers hidden on lottery tickets to prevent pilferage were minor and did not affect the outcome of the case, in which a Suffolk Superior Court jury convicted Kostka, a recently relapsed heroin addict, of going into Barbara Coyne's East 7th Street apartment shortly after her son left, cutting her throat and stealing some winning scratch tickets, which he then rushed out to cash at a nearby convenience store - on whose surveillance cameras he was captured.
The court also rejected an argument by Kostka's lawyer about data from his phone that suggested the phone was actually in Quincy at the time of the murder. The court ruled the data didn't matter, because a police detective he had discounted the data because it showed several supposed locations for Kostka at the time:
Given that video surveillance footage showed the defendant apparently at a convenience store in South Boston at 10:02 A.M. [shortly after Coyne's stabbing], however, the argument that his cellular telephone was in Quincy at that time likely would have had little if any impact on the jury's thinking.
In rejecting yet another argument, related to a statement by the prosecutor in her closing statement, the court just let loose:
The winning lottery tickets were far from the only evidence implicating the defendant. The Commonwealth's case included fingerprint evidence tying the defendant to jewelry boxes in the victim's bedroom and a bloody envelope in her living room. He also was a possible contributor to DNA found under the victim's fingernails. The Commonwealth introduced evidence that the defendant likely had committed other break-ins to obtain money to support his heroin addiction; the defendant had told one of his friends that he routinely committed "B&Es" and would slice the throat of anyone who caught him in the act, and then he had displayed a knife in his sleeve. Video surveillance images showed the defendant at the convenience store, near a lottery terminal, within minutes of the victim's neck being cut. In addition, early in the afternoon of the stabbing, a witness who used heroin with the defendant testified that they had driven together to their source in Mission Hill, purchased heroin, and returned to South Boston to consume it.
Considering the evidence as a whole, the lottery records were a key part of the Commonwealth's case. While the forensic evidence was critical, it alone could not have supported a conviction. The prosecutor herself acknowledged the significance of the lottery tickets, stating during her closing, "That is what connects the defendant to Barbara Coyne and her murder." Nonetheless, it is unlikely that the improper admission of the encryption testimony altered the jury's perception of the lottery records in a meaningful way.