By Seth Daniel
With a courtroom packed with folks from the Town, and family and friends of the late Ryan Morrissey, in Boston’s Suffolk Superior Court Wednesday morning, Assistant District Attorney John Verner detailed in his opening statement that Nov. 5, 2014 was like any other night for Morrissey, 17, and James Lawton as they hung out down the A-1 on Main Street.
It was something they did all the time, catching up with friends and talking hockey while enjoying an iced tea in the popular Main Street hangout.
It wasn’t, however, an ordinary night in the end, Verner said, as he alleged that Danilo Soto, 24, of Dorchester, and Alexander Soto (not related to Danilo), 20, of Charlestown, shot and killed Morrissey – and shot and wounded Lawton – on the sidewalk as they left the A-1 that night.
He also alleged their accomplice, Julio Baez, 26, of Charlestown, was waiting in a grey Acura on Salem Street for the getaway.
It was a case of mistaken identity for Morrissey and Lawton, Verner said, as they stood where two other young men stood moments before – young men that some allege were the true targets.
“Alexander Soto and Danilo Soto came off Sullivan Street and back down Main Street with firearms in their hands and the intent to kill in their minds,” Verner said, leading off the openings. “For some reason, at the exact moment (the other two youths) chose to leave the sidewalk and go into the convenience store, and Ryan and James came outside the store to leave, the two Sotos…pull out their guns and they fire, and fire and they fire and they fire. When the shooting is over, Ryan Morrissey was shot one time and he lay between the curb and a car…When the firing was over James Lawton had to crawl behind a car for cover, his body pierced with bullets. Then, Alexander Soto and Danilo Soto took off down Main Street, took a left on Salem Street.”
It was there, Verner alleged, that Baez waited for them.
All three men, through their attorneys, denied any such actions – all of which was also laid out in opening statements by three different attorneys on Wednesday morning.
The case began in earnest on Jan. 17, and seating a jury took many days – only finally getting set on Tuesday, Jan. 23. The jury is unique in that the members and alternates are predominantly women. Of the 14 total jurors, there are 12 women and two men.
In the audience, a huge contingent of folks from the Town made their presence known, silently watching the proceedings and there to comfort the Morrissey family – who watched from the front row.
Family of the accused were also in the court room – with everyone involved in the case being from, or having roots, in Charlestown.
A key piece of early evidence laid out by Verner, and challenged by the defense attorneys, was the use of cell phone tower evidence – which Boston Police have said put the three accused in Charlestown at the time of the shooting.
Attorney Steve Sack, representing Alexander, said his client played Little League with Morrissey and the other youths that were in front of the A-1 that night and had no beef with them ever. He said that Alexander Soto, and the other three as well, lived in Charlestown and grew up in the Bunker Hill Development.
“There will be no credible witnesses and there will be no credible evidence that Alexander Soto shot and killed Ryan Morrissey and shot James Lawton on Nov. 5, 2014,” said Sack. “That’s because he didn’t. He had no reason in the world…As a matter of fact, he played Little League baseball with both of them. He knew them. They knew him. There was no reason to start an argument and he didn’t…You’ll hear cell phone tower evidence discussed and cell towers can say you’re in an area and a particular phone was used in a wide area, but it can’t place you in an exact location.”
He said since Alexander Soto lived in Charlestown, it would come as no surprise that he was in the location of the cell tower.
Verner also detailed evidence of fingerprints from both Sotos that were in Baez’s car, as well as damage that was done to Baez’s car when he hit a blue VW on Salem Street.
There also is evidence from eyewitnesses living on Salem Street who allegedly saw the two Sotos run up Salem Street in clothing matching the description given at the crime scene – and then jump into Baez’s grey Acura and drive away.
Finally, Verner said there is video evidence that show two men in hoodies approaching the scene, stopping, and then fleeing – after having passed by the scene earlier and gone up Sullivan Street.
It wouldn’t, he said, be evidence that would clearly identify the accused. However, he said that putting all of the evidence together would clearly point to unreasonable doubt of their guilt.
“The shooting is on video, but you will not see Ryan and James get shot,” he said. “You will not be able to tell from the video who the shooters are. That evidence will be one of many pieces. You will hear other witnesses, other fingerprints in the car, but ladies and gentlemen, when this is all said and done, I’m going to get up and confidently tell you why you should find these defendant’s guilty.”
Another key piece pointed out by Sack was that no gun was ever found.
One revelation in the morning session was that Daniel Goggin, 23, of Charlestown, was one of the youths that had gone into the store as Morrissey and Lawton came out – potentially one of the alleged targets in the attack. Goggin was sentenced to two years in jail in 2016 for criminal contempt due to the fact that he refused to testify before the Grand Jury. The other alleged targets were mentioned in open court, but the newspaper has chosen not identified them by name.
Judge Janet Sanders is presiding over the case, and instructed the jury that the case could take some time.
“This is going to be a fairly lengthy trial,” she said Wednesday.
Sanders is of note as she presided over lawsuits by the City of Boston against Wynn Boston Harbor in 2015 – lawsuits that attracted a great deal of attention due to allegations made by Boston, but cases that she eventually dismissed.
Later on Wednesday, members of the jury took site visits to places around Charlestown that were of importance in the case, and testimony was to begin on Thursday and continue Friday. It is expected to last at least two weeks.
Officially, Alexander Soto and Danilo Soto are charged with murder, armed assault to murder and illegal possession of a firearm.
Baez – identified as the getaway driver – is charged with murder and armed assault to murder under the joint venture provision.