Legal Battle Ends with Release of Michael O’Laughlin

The Boston Globe reports on the complex criminal trial of Michael O’Laughlin which went from the trial court to the Appellate Divison to the Supreme Judicial Court to the First Circuit Court of Appeals to the United States Supreme Court and back to the US District Court in Massachusetts:

O’Laughlin was convicted of bludgeoning Annmarie Kotowski, a Dalton elementary school teacher, two years earlier in her apartment in Lee. The attack, which authorities theorized had been carried out with a baseball bat, fractured her skull, and she could not recall who beat her.

The state Department of Correction, through Coakley’s office, then asked the US Supreme Court to stay the order while it sought a review of the case by the full court. But Justice Stephen G. Breyer rejected the request on Aug. 26 and said he doubted the full court will hear the case, based on the state’s likelihood of success.

O’Laughlin, who lived two doors down and was a maintenance worker in the complex, was sentenced to 35 to 50 years in prison.

The order was the first of its kind by the circuit and one of only a few such rulings by federal appeals courts in the country, according to O’Laughlin’s appellate lawyer, Kenneth I. Seiger of Brookline, an opinion echoed by other veteran criminal lawyers.

A state Appeals Court panel later reversed the conviction. But the state Supreme Judicial Court subsequently reinstated it, prompting O’Laughlin to file a challenge in the federal courts. The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ordered O’Laughlin freed and barred prosecutors from retrying him, saying the evidence was too flimsy and speculative for a jury to convict him.

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