As far as the courts are concerned, the 2003 murders of Anne Trinh-Choy, 53, and Ching “Jimmy” Choy, 64, are now unsolved. The woman previously found guilty of killing them through a house fire–their daughter Frances Choy–is an innocent woman under the law. The Plymouth County District Attorney announced in a court hearing Tuesday that they will not seek a fourth trial after the conviction from the third was vacated this year.
Plymouth County Superior Court Judge Linda Giles decided to vacate the conviction for first-degree murder and arson on September 17, according to Boston College Law School Magazine. She found that two prosecutors in the case, former Assistant District Attorneys John Bradley and Karen O’Sullivan, exchanged emails about the defendant, her family, and “all Asian-Americans.” These messages were described as “racially and sexually degrading,” and displaying “anti-Asian bias.” Giles wrote that if the court knew about this, there would have been a mistrial and the prosecutors would have been removed from that case.
There were also other purported issues with the state’s work. Giles reportedly said there was evidence prosecutors put forward false and misleading arguments, false testimony, didn’t hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense, and broke court orders.
The @BCLAW‘s @bcinnocence program helped to uncover police and prosecutor racist misconduct to free Frances Choy, a woman who spent 17 years in prison for crimes she did not commit. https://t.co/e7xDU3akxQ pic.twitter.com/6YfxUODpmp
— Boston College (@BostonCollege) September 30, 2020
That’s it for the state’s case. District Attorney Timothy Cruz dropped it, citing fairness.
“Today’s outcome was the culmination of hundreds of hours of diligence by prosecutors in my office working cooperatively with appellate counsel to identify a number of significant legal issues that we could not ignore,” he said in statement to WBUR. “The role of every prosecutor is to ensure that justice is done. Fairness not only dictated our decision today, but is central to every decision we make.”
Choy’s attorney John Barter–of the Boston College Innocence Program–suggested this could be the first case in the United States where a murder conviction was thrown out in part because of racism by prosecutors.
Bradley could not be immediately reached for comment.
Through a DA spokesman, O’Sullivan declined to comment in a 2015 Standard-Times article about allegations that she joked about Chinese people, made light of a 15-year-old who’d been raped, and forwarded a picture depicting a child wearing a KKK costume.
“If I thought Karen was a racist, Karen would not be working for me,” Bristol DA Thomas Quinn said. He denied that she wrote the emails in question, and suggested that the allegations were retaliation for O’Sullivan writing an affidavit in support for a former colleague who sued the Plymouth County DA for firing him in 2012. The former colleague was Bradley, who claimed he was wrongfully terminated after not giving to Cruz’s reelection campaign, and for criticizing Cruz’s leadership.
He continues to voice support for O’Sullivan.
“I have gotten to know Karen during the past eight years and have found her to be a person of high moral character and integrity,” he said. “There has not been a single complaint about Karen’s professionalism, conduct or attitude during the time she has served the people of Bristol County. I hold her in very high regard, as do other members of the Bristol County District Attorney’s office.”
Bradley, who worked for the Worcester County District Attorney’s Office as of 2018, reportedly settled the lawsuit. He left that office more than two years ago, Worcester DA spokesman Paul Jarvey told Law&Crime in an email on Wednesday. The law firm that represented him in the complaint did not immediately respond to a Law&Crime request for comment.
As the time of Choy’s 2011 conviction, prosecutors argued that the defendant killed her parents for insurance money. The first two trials ended in hung juries. Kenneth Choy, Frances Choy’s nephew, was acquitted in 2009 for his alleged role in the murderous arson. He testified in Frances Choy’s second trial after getting immunity. The state replayed that testimony in their third case because he had since gone to Hong Kong.
Under the judge’s ruling, there was not the presence of gasoline on Frances Choy’s sweatpants, contrary to testimony from a state police chemist. The nephew’s clothes were reportedly not tested.
“It is evident that from the time that Frances was questioned by the State and Brockton Police as a seventeen year old, and through her third trial where the Commonwealth, at the eleventh hour, substituted a role-play of a transcript for their most important, but least credible witness, Frances was disadvantaged by a range of circumstances, procedures and rulings,” Giles wrote, according to WBUR.
Update – September 30, 5:25 p.m.: We added a response from the Bristol DA. You can also read Plymouth County’s motion below.
[Screengrab via WBZ]
Have a tip we should know? [email protected]