Judge declines Karen Read defense request to disqualify Norfolk DA in murder case

The judge in the Karen Read murder case has denied a defense request to disqualify or impose sanctions on Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey over extrajudicial comments and other decisions he made in the heated case.

“Because the Court concludes that no egregious misconduct occurred that is reasonably or substantially likely to materially prejudice or interfere with the defendant’s right to a fair trial, the Court will deny the motion,” Judge Beverly J. Cannone wrote in her ruling.

Read’s defense attorneys declined to comment to the Herald on the ruling.

Cannone’s decision follows swiftly after she denied on Tuesday the defense’s request that the case be dismissed. The trial is set to start on April 16.

Prosecutors say that Read struck Boston Police Officer John O’Keefe, her boyfriend of two years, with her Lexus SUV outside a Canton home in the very early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2022, and left him there to die in the cold. She was indicted on charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter while operating under the influence of alcohol, and leaving the scene of a personal injury or death, to which she has pleaded not guilty.

The defense counters with a third-party culprit theory that, as Cannone summarizes, “one or more persons attending a social gathering at (that) home killed O’Keefe and that they, along with others, including the Canton and State Police, engaged in a coverup of the crime.” After O’Keefe was allegedly beaten and murdered inside the home, they say, his body was planted outside.

Central in the defense theory is Brian Albert, a Boston Police Department sergeant and then-homeowner of 34 Fairview Road in Canton where O’Kee’s body was found on the front lawn. The defense has implicated him and others, including his sister-in-law Jennifer McCabe, of participating in a conspiracy surrounding O’Keefe’s death. Both Albert and McCabe, as well as other outside parties, have obtained lawyers to represent them in court.

They have also fingered Norfolk DA Morrissey as a participant in that conspiracy through at least two ways: first, making an unprecedented public statement on Aug. 25, 2023, decrying the defense’s theory and vouching for the people implicated in it and, second, that he had failed to disclose details of a federal inquiry into his office’s handling of the murder investigation.

“Jennifer McCabe, Matthew McCabe, Brian Albert. These people were not part of a conspiracy and certainly did not commit murder or any crime that night. They have been forthcoming with authorities, provided statements, and have not engaged in any cover up. They are not suspects in any crime — they are merely witnesses in the case,” Morrissey said in his public statement which was released as both a press release transcript as well as a video.

He also defended the principal Massachusetts State Police investigator in the case, Trooper Michael Proctor, who the defense has said had an improper relationship with the Alberts and have accused of investigatory misconduct.

“Trooper Proctor was not there and did not plant evidence at 34 Fairview Road,” Morrissey said. “In addition to having no opportunity to plant evidence as has been suggested, Trooper Proctor would have no motive to do so: Trooper Proctor had no close personal relationship with any of the parties involved in the investigation, had no conflict, and had no reason to step out of the investigation.”

The MSP has since revealed that Proctor is the subject of an internal review, but said that he will continue on the job as that investigation is conducted. The MSP would not provide details on the scope or focus of the investigation.

Judge Cannone in her ruling admits that some parts of Morrissey’s statement runs afoul of the rules of professional conduct, as the defense had argued, “particularly his comments about witnesses that relate to their credibility are the type of extrajudicial statements.” She does not find, however, that the statements rise to the level to which the indictments against Read should be dismissed.

“Though certain comments by DA Morrissey crossed the line of permissible extrajudicial statements by a prosecutor, they are not egregious misconduct that is reasonably or substantially likely to materially prejudice or interfere with a fair trial,” she wrote.

The defense further accused Morrissey of violating the rules of professional conduct by not disclosing that the U.S. Attorney’s office for Massachusetts was conducting an investigation of its own into the Karen Read investigation until six months after Morrissey himself had learned of it. It’s a charge to which Cannone wrote she “does not agree.”

She found that while the Norfolk DA’s office was in communication with the U.S. Attorney’s office over the subpoenas of their witnesses for that time period, the DA’s office “had little to no information about the investigation and was unaware of what, if any, evidence” the U.S. Attorney’s office had.

This is a developing story.

Dedham, MA - February 21, 2024: Karen Read leaves court after her hearing. (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)

Chris Christo/Boston Herald

Karen Read leaves Norfolk Superior Court after a recent hearing hearing. (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)

Dedham, MA - February 21, 2024: Judge Beverly Cannone listens during Karen Read's hearing. (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)

Chris Christo/Boston Herald

Judge Beverly Cannone listens during a recent Karen Read murder case hearing in Norfolk Superior Court. (Chris Christo/Boston Herald)

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