After four days of deliberation, Tarayiah Hunt was found guilty of second-degree murder and Ernest Watkins was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Cherby LaJoie.
Both Hunt and Watkins had been indicted for first-degree murder.
Watkins, who was 14 years old at the time of the incident, was tried as an adult. The state automatically tries juveniles involved in murders as adults. Hunt was 20 at the time of the killing.
LaJoie was stabbed to death on Oct. 6, 2012. Watkins and Hunt were part of a group that allegedly tried to rob LaJoie as he was walking on Charles Street in Dorchester. LaJoie, 39, was stabbed 41 times.
Assistant District Attorney Mark Hallal presented surveillance footage from the Fields Corner MBTA station that showed Watkins after the time of the attack, walking in and out of the frame. Evidence collected by Boston Police homicide detectives included a knife missing the tip. The knife was located where Watkins disappeared from the camera’s view in the MBTA station.
The tip of the knife was later recovered from LaJoie’s body.
A trail of blood at the scene matched Hunt’s DNA. She received a cut on her hand during the assault. DNA from LaJoie and Watkins was also found on key attached to a sho_elace, which opened Watkins’s Wentworth Street home.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 6, 2015.
This piece was originally published by Homicide Watch Boston.
In the second murder conviction of the year, Darius Gibson was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Terrence Kelley, Jr. on May 28, 2010.
“On April 26, 1992, my son was placed in my arms for the first time,” Kelley’s mother told the court in a victim impact statement.
“He was so precious, his face so flawless, his skin so soft, and I whispered ‘I love you’ for the first time. On May 28, 2010, I was led to a cold table where my beautiful son lay. This time his skin was not soft — only cold, very cold. And I whispered ‘I love you’ for the last time.”
Gibson’s was originally planned for Feb. 10, but due to severe weather, the date was postponed to Feb. 13.
According to Assistant District Attorney Ian Polumbaum, Gibson had a run-in with Kelley, whom he thought robbed Gibson’s drug supplier and close friend, James Austin. The next day, Gibson ran after and shot Kelley six times on Creston Street, near Austin’s apartment.
Gibson’s defense filed four motions at the beginning of the hearing. The first was for an appeal as well as withdrawal of council and appointment of appellate council. The next were for the removal of the defendant during victim impact presentation, which was denied, and also a motion for the sentences to run concurrently with one in Plymouth County.
On the charge of intimidation of a witness, Gibson was sentenced to an additional five to seven years. During the three-week trial, Judge Linda Giles also warned Gibson for writing a letter to a juror and calling Austin’s mother. The judge had the physical letter and the phone call’s transcript.
Gibson turned and smiled to Kelley’s family as he was led out of the courtroom.
Miharu Sugie contributed to this report. This piece was originally published by Homicide Watch Boston.
In 2008, junior Northeastern student Rebecca Payne, who was pursuing a Bachelor of Science in athletic training, was murdered in her Mission Hill apartment. Seven years later, her killer has finally been sentenced after changing his plea from innocent to guilty.
“She was always involved,” Rebecca’s mother Virginia Payne said. “She had everything mapped out in front of her, and all this was taken away from her in 2008. She was full of life and she knew where she was going and she knew what she wanted.”
On May 20, 2008, Payne returned from work and fell asleep on her couch in her apartment on Parker Hill Avenue. Around 3:20 a.m., Cornell Smith, who was 30 years old at the time, entered her apartment and shot Payne five times – twice in the legs, once in the chin, and twice in the torso.
Residents of the building heard gunshots and screams but did not call police. Payne was 22 years old.
Smith believed he was avenging his arrest in February of that year for selling cocaine – he suspected two rival drug dealers, who were sisters and looked similar to Payne, were behind his arrest.
The sisters lived two floors down from Payne.
“Everyone heard the shots and screams, and no one did anything,” Nicholas Payne, Rebecca’s father, said. “The New England Baptist Hospital was up the street, almost within earshot of what happened.”
Smith fled the scene in a car driven by Michael Balba, and Payne’s body was not discovered until 6:30 a.m., when a tenant noticed the open apartment door.
Balba was charged with four counts of perjury after being accused of lying to a grand jury in regards to the Payne investigation, and Smith was charged with first degree murder and armed assault in a dwelling and unlawful possession of a firearm in 2012.
“She was, in every sense, an innocent victim,” district attorney Daniel Conley said in a press release in 2012 after the indictments of Balba and Smith.
The prosecution’s star witness, Anthony White, passed away in May 2014. White had direct evidence linking both Smith and Balba to the scene. Without White, the case against Balba is effectively over.
“How much pain [is caused by] these people when they do these things,” Virginia Payne said. “For family and friends, it’s unimaginable pain. It was so hard to handle it. And the hardest thing was when they said they were going to drop the case.”
Smith’s admission of guilt came while he was incarcerated in 2008 for an unrelated federal drug distribution arrest, which he was sentenced 12- 15 years.
Discovered in a review of files in October 2014, Smith wrote one letter previously in which he described the assault, stating,that the assault led to “to the unfortunate passing of Rebecca Payne at the hands of I, Cornell Alan Smith, Sr.” He now has pleaded to voluntary manslaughter and possession of a firearm.
Smith states that his change came in attempt to get his life back together.
“I’m a father, too,” Smith said in the sentencing hearing Friday, Feb. 13 2015 that was presided over by Judge Jeffrey Locke. “It’s not who I am, so it’s better for everybody.”
Smith was sentenced to 18-20 years, the maximum sentence for voluntary manslaughter, to be served concurrently with the federal sentence. He was also sentenced up to five years for unlawful possession of a firearm.
Locke turned to Smith and instructed him to look back at the faces in the courtroom, that they were the faces of Rebecca Payne and the pain he caused and that he hopes he remembers them for the next 18 to 20 years.
“[Smith] got a lucky break and he got a break he didn’t deserve,” Nicholas Payne said. “In a way,we were actually madder at Michael Balba than the guy who actually did it at times because it seemed like Michael has had years and years to think about what he was doing.”
Rebecca Payne grew up in New Milford, Conn. and graduated New Medford High School in 2004.
“And the first time she stepped on Northeastern, there was no turning back,” Virginia Payne said.
While at Northeastern, Payne became the president of the athletic training club and co-oped at the Dartmouth–Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and as a clinical student in the Sports Medicine Department at Northeastern.
As stated by her parents, Payne was a driven and compassionate young woman who was surrounded by her friends.
“She was always thinking about to others, always helping,” Virginia Payne said. “She gave out of her heart”
Lauren Ziaks and Jessica Meiley met Payne at NU in 2004 while they were all studying in the athletic training program. Both Ziaks and Meiley agreed that they became fast friends.
“Her laugh is what I remember the most as well as her ability to always make everyone feel special,” Ziaks said. “Although I do not feel that 20 years is enough time for Cornell Smith to serve in exchange for murdering Rebecca, I do feel closure. I feel that we can finally move past this experience and all the wondering and just remember the good times with her.”
Meiley feels similarly about the verdict, also noting that the three years since the arraignment have been extremely difficult.
“No amount of time could show [Smith] the type of person Becca was and how much me, her family and friends miss her,” Meiley said.
In Payne’s memory, her town’s local tennis courts have been named after her, as well as a garden and the National Athletic Trainers Association scholarship fund set up in her name.
“We don’t want her to be forgotten,” Nicholas Payne said.
This piece was originally published by the Huntington News.
With Monday after Monday canceled due to inclement weather – an unprecedented amount of snow – this semester and the city have taken a beating.
Northeastern’s Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Executive Director Madeleine Estabrook, announced on Feb. 14 that classes missed will be made up on Patriots Day, April 20, and Reading Day, April 23. While making up days at the end of the semester could solve some scheduling issues, students, faculty and staff have all had their schedules and syllabuses disrupted and have been inconvenienced.
Kimberly Jones is a professor of international affairs currently teaching international conflict as well the senior capstone class. Jones notes that the snow has made meeting challenging, especially considering that the capstone class meets on Monday only.
“For the capstone class, I’ve already organized a series of make-up sessions in small groups, and we have one more later this week,” Jones said. “I’ve also had the class provide written peer feedback over email as they progress with their papers. They’ve been terrific.”
Due to the structure of the international conflict class, Jones has decided to not cram information and instead engage with students outside of class time through additional coursework.
“I’ve been really impressed with the students’ positive attitudes and willingness to be flexible,” Jones said. “Many of them have made the most of the snow days, working on papers, researching and writing, and generally using it as a chance to catch up or even get ahead.”
Some students, however, share a different sentiment.The 95.7 inches of snow affecting has affected not only class but also co-op, internships and work as well.
For senior international affairs and anthropology major Rachel Lake, all of her classes this semester are scheduled before noon on Mondays, aside from one class that meets once a week on Tuesdays.
“My semester has been obliterated,” Lake said. “My syllabuses have been hacked and chopped like the Amazon rainforest.”
Lake notes that this is not solely a Northeastern situation, and that it is frustrating for the community of Boston as a whole, especially in regards to transportation.
Shea Pease, a sophomore business major, notes similar frustrations. Pease has been unable to make it to her Monday internship with Scooper Media. In fact, the business as a whole is unable to function because other business are closed as well.
In terms of class, Pease has had only three tests this semester, and every one has been pushed by at least a week.
“That’s not the worst thing in the world,” Pease said. “But I feel like I’m losing thousands of dollars by not having class.”
Renata Nyul, the director of the communications for Northeastern, notes that despite the snow, the school community has pulled together to get campus back to a functional state.
“It was really a team effort, and facilities, dining, student affairs, ResLife, public safety, payroll and others were all working around the clock to clear the campus of snow and support our students,” Nyul said in an email to The News. “A lot of people from Northeastern, including our facilities colleagues and many of our students, pitched in to help our neighbors beyond the campus. Everyone has shown so much enthusiasm, care and dedication during these past weeks.”
Lake, however, believes that the university will still lag despite efforts.
“While I respect the university’s attempt to create make up days on Reading Day and Patriots Day, I find it hard to believe professors will be able to manage this student schedule puzzle effectively,” Lake said.
This piece was originally published by the Huntington News.
With the beginning of the spring semester, Northeastern announced the appointment of Laura Wankel as the first Chief Integrated Student Engagement Officer. This new position is meant to facilitate a education model through focusing on students.
Wankel was previously the vice president of student affairs, a position focused on student organizations and activities.
The appointment was announced to the university community in an email on Jan. 22 from Provost Stephen Director and Philomena Mantella, the senior vice president and CEO of Global Network, which brings together programs and people to create a new platform nationally and internationally for education innovation. The email also noted that Madeleine Estabrook, who is currently associate vice president, will be promoted to vice president for student affairs.
“Laura’s appointment will further strengthen our leadership in this area by integrating the curriculum and co-curriculum in innovative ways,” Mantella said. “It’s also fortunate that we have a strong and passionate leader in Madeleine Estabrook to oversee student affairs.”
The position of chief student engagement officer is new to the university, and has been created to rethink how the school focuses on student development, both in terms of academics as well as clubs and sports. The goal is to ultimately have students as the center of Northeastern’s educational model and combine both educational and extracurricular experiences.
“The new model will build on Northeastern’s experiential learning model,” Wankel said. “The goal is to take a more integrated approach that is less constrained by the artificial and traditional boundaries between the curriculum and co-curriculum. The model will advance a student-centric approach and recognize the potential for learning across environments both in and outside of the classroom. As a result students will be more confident, resourceful and resilient.”
As stated by Director and Mantella, the plan is to cement leadership roles that focus on student engagement and look at the different facets of human development academically and in terms of extracirriculars.
“Students will be more able to approach their learning with greater intentionality and purpose, develop the knowledge, skills, abilities and values that will better position them for success in their personal and professional lives,” Wankel said.
Susan Ambrose, the senior vice provost for undergraduate education and experiential learning, has been in talks with Wankel regarding the relationship between academics and extracurricular activities. In her new position, Wankel will directly report to Ambrose.
“I am very excited to be working with Senior Vice Provost Susan Ambrose on what I see as a cutting -edge project that will shape new pathways of learning,” Wankel said.
Since talks began, the two have been thinking about a new way to approach growth through this proposed method of higher education. They plan to look at students in relation to their classes, clubs and advising to help develop and hone their skills for success in their futures and to create fulfilling lives, Ambrose said.
“I’ts really focusing more on skills, knowledge and competencies with the student at the center,” Ambrose said. “Successful growth and development that leads to successful lives and careers. We’re really hoping to look at the different facets of human development and look at how that plays out. It could impact everything we do in terms of what we want students to leave with from the university.”
Northeastern is currently the only university in the country to approach development and this model of higher education. As stated by Ambrose, with this uncharted space in educational development, they are building the plane as they fly it.
“This is a much more entrepreneurial creative endeavor,” Ambrose said. “It’s really conceptualizing a new form of higher education that breaks down the barriers between curriculum and co-curriculum.”
Over the next six to eight weeks, Ambrose and Wankel will work to make a concrete action plan and to operationalize said plan.
“We want to put the students and their needs and developments in the center and wrap everything else around it,” Ambrose said. “Nothing is broken. We just want to flip it on its head and see how it turns out.”
This piece was originally published by the Huntington News.
Chronicling my journalistic endeavors.
All ocean conservation/biodiversity posts are my own original thoughts. All other posts are my work for other publications.