Courthouse Steps Maven
| June 12th, 2009 06:53 PM
2 guilty in '04 robbery, killing
Verdict delayed by 3 mistrials since last year
By David Abel and Maria Cramer
June 12, 2009
After enduring five years and four trials, relatives of Betsy Tripp burst into tears yesterday when a Suffolk Superior Court jury found two men guilty of hogtying her in her Dorchester apartment in 2004, fatally slashing her throat, and shooting her boyfriend in the face, leaving him partially blind.
The defendants, Quincy Butler and William Wood, both 35 and from Boston, had repeatedly escaped conviction on the same charges since 2008 because of three mistrials, twice because of deadlocked juries and once because the judge was ill.
After six days of deliberating, the jury convicted Wood of first-degree murder for cutting Tripp's throat. Butler was convicted of the lesser charge of second-degree murder for participating in the crime and shooting Tripp's boyfriend, Morris Thompson.
"I have nothing but relief," Christopher Gorton of Boston, Tripp's brother-in-law, said after the verdict. "But it's not like there's even some sense of victory after five years."
Asked about the second-degree murder conviction for Butler, Gorton shrugged. "It doesn't matter; they're both gone," he said.
Butler and Wood face mandatory life terms in prison, but Butler will be eligible for parole after serving 15 years. Prosecutors said they plan to seek additional prison time for offenses committed before, during, and after Tripp's killing. They are scheduled to be sentenced on June 19.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley shook hands with Tripp's relatives after the verdict and praised a "remarkable job" by Assistant District Attorney Patrick M. Haggan, who prosecuted the case.
"This was excruciating for them to go through four times," Conley said. "It was really difficult for them. There is always the emptiness after a verdict like this, because nothing the jury did will bring back Betsy Tripp."
The defendants' lawyers declined to comment.
Butler also was convicted of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon for shooting Thompson as he tried to help Tripp, who was 49 at the time of the killing. The jury acquitted Wood of the same charge, but found both men guilty of kidnapping, armed home invasion, and larceny of a motor vehicle.
As they filed out of the courthouse, jurors said their deliberations went smoothly and included no holdouts.
"It was all very cordial," said John Brown, 54, an economics professor from Brighton who served as the jury's foreman. "We worked through all the evidence presented and through every issue. It was a good, diverse group, and we worked well together."
Prosecutors said Butler and Wood held Thompson, 47, an acquaintance, at gunpoint on the night of Feb. 12, 2004, and forced him to drive to the apartment he shared with Tripp. Prosecutors said Butler stood guard with a handgun over the victims as Wood went to a Codman Square bank machine and withdrew $40 from Tripp's account before being cut off because of insufficient funds.
When Wood returned to the apartment about 2 a.m., he used a kitchen knife to kill Tripp, prosecutors said. After Thompson managed to untie himself to try to save Tripp, Butler shot him in the head and arm, causing irreparable damage to his left eye.
The assailants were identified after bank surveillance footage showed Wood and several female associates attempting unsuccessfully to obtain money from Tripp's account, prosecutors said. The women testified at the trial and were not charged, a spokesman for the district attorney's office said. Prosecutors said the women did not know about the killing.
Brown said they relied heavily on the timelines from bank statements and the medical examiner. "For me, that evidence really helped narrow it down and make it come together," he said.
Other jurors agreed it was not difficult to reach unanimity.
"There was no screaming or yelling," said one man who declined to give his name but identified himself as Juror No. 5. "It went as I expected it would go."
After the verdict, Butler walked out in handcuffs and leg irons, his face blank. Wood also showed little expression as he left the courtroom.
To Gorton, they were "fly specks."
"Go away," Gorton said of the defendants as he stood outside the courthouse after the verdict. "Now we get to try to put our lives back together."
Afterward, Gorton stood outside, waiting for the jurors to come out. "I want to thank them personally," he said.
His eyes moist, Gorton reflected on the last five years and the "literally hundreds of hours" he and his wife, Cynthia, had spent in courtrooms for the case.
As jurors came out, Gorton tried to greet as many of them as possible.
When an elderly woman who declined to give her name walked down the steps, Gorton extended his hand to her. "Thank you," he told her.
"It's about time," she murmured softly to him, holding his hand. "It's about time."
Andrew Ryan of the Globe staff contributed to this report.