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News :: Human Rights
Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
A man falsely convicted of murder seeks release after twenty years in prison. A police officer paid to work security at a business was sleeping in his police vehicle when some took his gun and shot and killed him.
web Sean Ellis 3-143.img_assist_custom-150x168.jpg
WEB mulligan 3-14.img_assist_custom-200x290.jpg
WEB terry patterson 3-14.jpg
A Dorchester man serving a life sentence for a cop killing 20 years ago – a crime he says he didn’t commit – may yet have a chance for a new trial and freedom. Sean K. Ellis, arrested in 1993 at age 19, was one of two teenagers convicted of putting five bullets into the face of Boston Detective John Mulligan -- “to get his gun for a trophy,” prosecutors said. The other youth, Terry Patterson of Hyde Park, then 18, was freed from prison in 2007 after a ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court discredited fingerprints that police claimed were his.

Boston defense attorney Rosemary Scapicchio, known for tackling tough post-conviction legal challenges, including the flawed first-degree murder conviction of Dorchester’s Shawn Drumgold, has submitted a retrial motion for Ellis centered on exculpatory information she has obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, evidence she claims was withheld from his trial lawyers. According to Scapicchio’s motion, the exculpatory evidence “links Mulligan to various crimes, establishes the existence of multiple third-party suspects, and reveals that some members of the Boston Police Department believed that Mulligan was actually killed by another police officer and not by a young innocent black teenager named Sean Ellis who happened to be out buying diapers.”

The story began in September 1993 with the pre-dawn assassination of the 52-year-old detective as he slept in the driver’s seat of his SUV, which was parked outside the Roslindale Walgreens he was paid to protect. Someone either fired through his partly open window or climbed into his passenger seat to make the kill. Officially branded a “problem officer” by the Boston Police Department the year prior, Mulligan had a rough policing style that churned up multiple enemies and lawsuits over his 27-year career. Investigators initially began combing his police work for individuals bent on revenge, yet within days they netted teenagers Ellis and Patterson and re-labeled the assassination a random crime of opportunity, prompted when the youths happened upon the sleeping detective and decided to steal his gun. Many observers remained skeptical about the police account: Why would teens kill a uniformed detective so brutally, in gangland style, on a motive so slim?

FBI documents unearthed and cited by Scapicchio in her motion point to Mulligan’s longstanding history of corruption, including the alleged extortion of retailers for bogus protection and the shaking down of drug dealers and prostitutes, all of which, she argues, generated multiple suspects who were never pursued. Scapicchio links the revelation of Mulligan’s history of sordid conduct with prior “evidence that Mulligan was seen arguing with a girl in his car shortly before his murder,” and concludes, “based on what we now know from the new evidence, the girl in the car is very relevant. … [and] it cannot be said with any confidence that [she] was not somehow involved in his death.”

Scapicchio’s motion also cites FBI reports that document credible tips ventured by two Boston police officers that a “named” fellow officer was responsible for Mulligan’s killing. Not only were these suspicions suppressed, she notes, but one officer was also disciplined for voicing them. A matching tip came in from a civilian who’d recently been arrested by Mulligan and his partners, complete with the name and motive of the suspected Boston officer. This tip, too, was ignored, Scapicchio writes.

Ellis’s trial lawyer, Norman Zalkind, filed a supporting affidavit with the retrial motion, enumerating 21 points of information he deems pertinent that he maintains the Commonwealth withheld from the defense and stating, “If I had been provided this exculpatory evidence prior to trial, I would have filed additional discovery motions, investigated additional suspects, investigated Mulligan and used the exculpatory evidence to raise a reasonable doubt at trial. Mulligan’s involvement in illegal activities meant that many people had motives to harm him.”

The crux of Scapicchio’s argument for a retrial rests on testimony in federal grand jury proceedings that Mulligan robbed two Commonwealth Avenue apartments leased by a Boston drug dealer three weeks before his murder, working alongside two detective friends, Kenneth Acerra and Walter Robinson. (Acerra and Robinson later pleaded guilty to more than 40 counts of such robberies and did prison time.) The relevance for Ellis is that Acerra and Robinson served on the task force investigating Mulligan’s murder. As partners in crime with Mulligan, they had a conflict of interest, Scapicchio asserts, that could well have colored their motives and calls for further scrutiny of the evidence they brought forward.

Citing legal precedent, Scapicchio further argues that although Acerra and Robinson hid their misconduct, they were “members of the prosecution team for discovery purposes...[and as such] their knowledge is imputed to the prosecution, and the exculpatory evidence should have been turned over to the defense.”

The jury never heard the full story of the widespread police corruption and its links to Mulligan and his cohorts, she repeatedly notes in her motion, and if they had, she adds, they would have doubted that Ellis and his friend carried out the crime: “Ultimately, the withheld evidence makes it impossible to say that justice was done.”

From the outset, the Mulligan murder investigation was fraught with allegations of misconduct. First, Mulligan’s cell phone, reported missing from his SUV after the murder, was “discovered” a week later in the vehicle’s center console by the aforementioned Detective Acerra in what police characterized as a second search of the vehicle. That explanation resulted in Acerra being yanked from the investigation by the chief prosecutor; he subsequently was put back on the job after his union pushed for his reinstatement.

Next, Acerra, acting with Detectives Robinson and John Brazil, brought forward a teenaged witness named Rosa Sanchez, coincidentally, the niece of Acerra’s live-in girlfriend and cousin of their child. Sanchez testified that when she stopped at Walgreens at 3 a.m. for a bar of soap on the morning of the murder, she saw an African-American man peering into the sleeping Mulligan’s car window. She identified Ellis from police photos, but it took her two tries to make the ID, according to a detective’s testimony at a pre-trial hearing called to examine the circumstances. In her first attempt, she selected another man – neither Ellis nor Patterson – and left the homicide unit. She then sat outside in Acerra’s private car with him and Robinson, and by several accounts, she was weeping. Five minutes later, she was back inside, pointing to Ellis’s photo. On this basis, his defense attorneys, Norman Zalkind and David Duncan, protested the ID as “tainted.” Nonetheless, it was admitted as evidence.

Both Sean Ellis and Terry Patterson pleaded not guilty. Patterson was convicted readily after prosecutors produced fingerprints they said were his from Mulligan’s car door. But Ellis’s conviction was hard-won. Speaking voluntarily to police, he admitted riding to Walgreens in Patterson’s car after a party, but said he only shopped for diapers and had nothing to do with the murder. Police later found a box of Luvs with their Walgreens receipt in his cousin’s apartment.

No physical evidence linked Ellis to the crime scene, and, despite Sanchez’s photo ID, and despite his attorney’s admission that he and other friends helped hide guns for Patterson, two back-to-back juries failed to conclude he was in a murderous joint venture with Patterson. A half-year later, and with no additional evidence brought to bear on the case, a third jury convicted Ellis of murder one in September 1995 and sent him to prison for life without parole.

Just five months after Ellis’s conviction, Mulligan’s friends and task force investigators Acerra and Robinson, along with their protégé, John Brazil, were exposed as having perpetrated a decade-long scheme of robberies of drug dealers and illegal immigrants based on falsified search warrants. Acerra and Robinson were ultimately stripped of their badges and pleaded guilty to federal charges; Brazil was granted immunity in exchange for his cooperation and later retired.

That admitted felons with ties to Mulligan were instrumental in convicting Ellis prompted attorneys Zalkind and Duncan to mount a retrial motion for him in 1998, but the motion was denied when the judge refused to speculate that the detectives’ corruption in drug cases transferred to a murder case, despite their extensive perjury on warrants and in court.

Now, 16 years after that failed retrial bid, Scapicchio, armed with new information, adds meat to Zalkind and Duncan’s 1998 retrial argument, maintaining that Mulligan’s criminal link with Acerra and Robinson gave the corrupt detectives a plausible motive to manufacture evidence: The intense, ongoing probe of Mulligan’s police work threatened to expose their joint crimes and double lives. Enter Rosa Sanchez, whom Acerra, Robinson, and Brazil brought forward within twelve hours of the murder and whose seemingly reluctant ID of Ellis led to his arrest and halted the investigation into other suspects.

At the time, Sanchez lived with her husband Ivan in his mother’s rundown apartment on Humboldt Avenue in Roxbury. Her transcript at Hyde Park High School shows a dismal record of failure. Five months before she became a Mulligan-case witness, an April 1993 police incident report shows a 911 medical emergency call made by Ivan Sanchez from their apartment, with Rosa subsequently rushed by ambulance to Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital having ingested an “unknown quantity” of “unknown pills.”

Was a vulnerable Rosa Sanchez manipulated by corrupt detectives, to ensure a conviction? Scapicchio wants that question revisited. Defense attorney Norman Zalkind didn’t mince words at trial. Calling the nineteen-year-old “possibly troubled,” he said, “She’s putty. She will say anything.”

Sanchez’s fortunes improved dramatically after she identified Sean Ellis. The couple was relocated, at the Commonwealth’s expense, to a garden apartment in Norwood, where Rosa enrolled in high school. (According to school records, she never attended class and was dropped from the roster.)

Scapicchio also notes that another prosecution witness had her pending drug charge dropped and $3,580 returned – money confiscated from her underwear during her arrest – after she modified her times of shopping at Walgreens in a way that buttressed Sanchez’s account.

Scapicchio also wants the Commonwealth’s ballistics evidence scrutinized anew, noting that studies completed by the National Academy of Sciences after the trials cast doubt on the reliability of “identifying tool marks” on recently manufactured bullets. Moreover, she has uncovered a police transcript showing that detectives questioned John Mulligan’s girlfriend’s roommate about a “pearl-handled .25-caliber gun” – the exact description of the purported murder weapon – two days before the weapon was found in a Dorchester field. Scapicchio is asking: How did police know about the gun? Was it Mulligan’s own? Was it planted?

By the time of Ellis’s arrest in the Mulligan case, he’d had “a few run-ins with the law,” he admits in a letter he recently sent to the Urban League, American Civil Liberties Union, NAACP, and a dozen other social justice organizations, seeking their help. But he was never convicted of any crime, let alone a violent crime. For the past 20 years, he has been a model prisoner, rising in status through the system and earning certification as a legal assistant via a correspondence course. Now 39, he is one of an elite group of inmates chosen at medium-security MCI Norfolk to counsel at-risk youth.

During those 20 years Sean Ellis has continued to insist that he played no role in Mulligan’s slaying, but unless he can win a fourth jury trial – and then win the jurors over – he will likely die in prison. Will Scapicchio’s arguments, and the many troubling questions and inconsistencies in the case that she has laid bare, be enough to grant Sean Ellis a fourth trial?

That is the question for Suffolk Superior Court Judge Carol S. Ball.

Elaine A. Murphy, a retired publications editor and former Boston school teacher, knew Sean Ellis in the 1980s when he was a Metco student and friend of her son’s in Needham’s Mitchell Elementary School. Since learning of Ellis’s conviction in 1995, she has closely followed his case and recently set up a website,

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Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Uncle John Murray and Auntie Pat::

As a result of the injustice we feel that it is about time that Sean receives the proper justice in regards to this fiasco. It has been 20 years of the best time of his life that he has been incarcerated due to bad judgment triumphed up charges and the fact that he is a black male and the police officer was a white man. The police officer Mr. Mulligan as records are now indicating had a extremely shady side about him. After speaking to a awful lot of people within and around the police department a lot of Mr. Mulligan's misdeeds came out into the open. It is about time that my nephew is released from prison because first of all it was never actually proven no more than hearsay that he was the trigger man.I truly hope as well as the family truly hopes that the scales of justice won't be weighted against my nephew with the intensity that the district attorney's office saw fit to tip against him. It is time for him to come home so that he can receive the love and support from his family twenty years is a long time for a person to be taken away from their family the opportunity has come up that some wrongs can be righted by finally allowing him to come home so his family who have missed him so much can take care of him. Hope to see you soon Sean...
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Modified: 06:55:53 AM

Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Modified: 09:50:05 AM
I look forward to the decision of justice in Sean's favor. We/he has lost more than enough time to this farce; our family continues to suffer from his absence due to this injustice and it's time this great wrong is righted.

Jeannelle Moody · Roxbury Community College
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Modified: 10:47:51 AM
Well it took three trials to convict him in the first place, and right after they did so. Those two cops got arrested. So what does that say about our justice system, the same system that asks for the communities help when it comes to finding criminals. When in deed themselves hide the truth, commit crimes. And abuse the very same laws that they swear to go by! It is time for some real justice to take place, and it's time for Sean to have his new trial granted…
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Modified: 03:25:25 PM
Hi Elaine I am a close friend to Virginia Murray, Sean Ellis's close cousin. I've heard nothing but GREAT things about you regarding your hard work, efforts and dedication for Sean's justice! We ALL family/friends have Sean in our prayers and hope for the best for him to soon REUNITE with us again! Thank you so much!
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Modified: 03:58:19 PM
It is situations like this that are irreparable. The defendants and the Policeman's family are the real victims here. Had the Commonwealth did its job in the eyes of justice, none of this would be a reality today. I am not saying all cops are bad. The ones that are need to be held responsible. If the Commonwealth does their homework solely on its own, no one would be uninvestigatable in my book. whether they''re public officials or citizens; everyone has to be treated the same. I am a prime example of it. This case should be dismissed. we have obstruction of justice, and clear grounds of miscarriages of justice all through the case. Judge Ball has to be able to see it. This
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Modified: 07:34:09 PM
With prayer and hard work my brother will be home soon! ♥♥♥
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Modified: 08:36:13 PM
This article is OUTSTANDING!!! Elaine Murphy, GOD BLESS YOU for believing I'm Sean. I don't know him heard lil about the case recently. However after reading your article you won my vote to "FREE" Sean. It sounds like he was falsely convicted. I will keep him & his family in my prayers. #FreeSea
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
19 Feb 2014
Wonderfully written article. Thanks Elaine Murphy for your support and efforts. I'm praying daily that justice comes for Sean Ellis.
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
20 Feb 2014
Modified: 02:55:40 AM
Both men were guilty. Mulligan was an awful human being but murder is murder.

"A man falsely convicted of murder seeks release after twenty years in prison" How can an author write that as a first sentence? Until the Judge rules that Ellis has been falsely convicted, Ellis has been legally convicted. This is a very biased article, I give it zero credence.
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
20 Feb 2014
Modified: 04:47:43 AM
That first sentence was not written by a judge. I wrote it. I believe it is true, and present arguments to support the idea. Most commentary articles on Boston Indymedia are not written by judges and are not neutral news reports. Of the millions of people around the world in prisons, do you think any are innocent. Have you ever heard of a case where an innocent person was falsely convicted? Eilaine Murphy was a Boston Public school teacher who had some sympathy for the people of the city, and ability to write and investigate, and a child who was friends with someone who was falsely accused of murder. What would you do? A central feature of Christianity is the story of the Son of God falsely accused of crimes and given the Death Penalty. Ever see anyone on the subway wearing a small cross? That's a symbol for the falsely accused and punished. Throughout US history police have selected random black people to punish for crimes that someone else committed. Look up the unhappy end of Leo Frank who was wrongly accused of a crime and lynched one hundred years ago. He was Jewish, and down South, and someone wanted to get him. The same forces are at work today, in the City of Boston. If you don't like Leftist commentary and activist reporting go read the Herald, or Boston Globe, or Fox News and have the opinions and arrangements of facts that are 'standard issue' and always pro-police. You are in the wrong place. Murdoch is not the editor here.
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
20 Feb 2014
Modified: 06:26:07 AM
Thank you Elaine Murphy for your tireless and tremendous work to bring justice to an incredibly deserving man. Your website is convincing, credible, thoughtful, and thorough, and I have no doubt that, with advocates like you by his side, Sean's freedom will rightfully be given back.
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
20 Feb 2014
Modified: 09:06:12 AM
Mike Murphy at Alaska Pacific University

*Admirable perseverance, will keep fingers crossed
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
20 Feb 2014
Modified: 01:17:31 PM
Mulligan was a dirty cop... Always into someone else mess... I remember this I didn't think he did this then & I still believe Sean Ellis was set up..I hope he will finally get Justice!
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
20 Feb 2014
Modified: 06:41:40 PM
We shouldn't have to fight injustices like this, because they should not happen. Unfortunately they do, and I am inspired by the hard working, good people who stand up for those who have been wronged.
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
25 Feb 2014

In fall 2013 Sean Ellis sent out letters to the Urban League, NAACP, American Civil Liberties Union, and a dozen other social justice and legal organizations, asking their help in "bringing attention and a voice" to rectify his wrongful conviction for the 1993 murder of Boston Detective John Mulligan. Here is the text of that letter:

My name is Sean K. Ellis. I am currently incarcerated at MCI-Norfolk, serving a natural life sentence for a crime I did not commit. Since my arrest, I have dedicated myself to proving my innocence. My attorney and my family have been instrumental in this endeavor. For the last 10 years, my attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio, has not only been my representative, she has been integral in uncovering the hidden truths about the elements of my case and who may have killed the victim, [Det.] John J. Mulligan. I did not do it!

I am a 39-year-old native of Boston, Massachusetts. I was schooled in the Needham Public School system until transferring to Dorchester High where I eventually graduated. I am the father of a beautiful young lady name Tatianna. Unfortunately, I lost my father in December and my mother is getting older seemingly fast.

While growing up, I had a few run-ins with the law. However, this is my first and only incarceration. Since being incarcerated I have invested in my growth and development as a human being by participating in many diverse programs such as: Intro to Spectrum, Menswork, Health Awareness, Four Phases of Alternatives to Violence Project, Success in Leadership and Communication in Speech Craft, Post Grad Math Skills, Jericho Circle and Jericho Circle Intensive (where I continue to be a facilitator/Circle Guide). I am on the Board of Directors of Second Thoughts Inc. (an inmate-run program at MCI-Norfolk), and I am also an active member who takes part in counseling troubled youth.

Furthermore, I am one of five elected men who comprise the Executive Board of the Norfolk Inmate Council. As a member of the Executive Board, my function is to meet with the superintendent and his administration to find viable solutions to the problems and issues that plague the population and facility. Overall, the Executive Board helps to maintain harmony amongst the staff and inmates. Lastly, I have obtained my Paralegal Diploma from the Blackstone Career Institute. Rather than succumb to the negative pressures of this penal setting, I continuously work to prove my innocence and to better myself. I only mention these accomplishments as a testament of who I am as a person.

I am the victim of a gross injustice! The Boston Police Department has chosen to deny public records requests in favor of covering up the real evidence in my case and concealing the unscrupulous activities of rogue/dirty cops who manufactured the evidence against me.

Detectives that investigated my case...Kenneth Acerra and Walter Robinson, have pled guilty to public corruption charges in federal court. A third detective, John Brazil, avoided prosecution by cooperating with federal authorities. All three of these detectives were responsible for producing the only evidence presented against me at trial. The integrity of this investigation was compromised from the very start with the involvement of Detective John Brazil and his involving both Detectives Acerra and Robinson -- two non-homicide detectives. In fact, ironically, it was Detective Acerra's niece that identified my photograph from a photo array, only after speaking privately with him and Detective Robinson. This happened on the heels of selecting two photographs of different people.

Attorney Scapicchio has tirelessly worked to uncover other substantial evidence that further highlights this injustice. Her work has culminated into the filing of a motion for new trial with an argument of Actual Innocence being presented. Aside from the new trial motion, Attorney Scapicchio has filed a civil lawsuit against the Boston Police Department and the City of Boston seeking the production of documents/evidence relevant to proving my innocence. I am requesting that [you] join on with this endeavor.

Apart from the civil lawsuit, I still need your help.... in bringing attention and a voice to this injustice. I believe that my attorney, my family and I would benefit from having your support and support...Will you stand with us? Please do not sit quietly when your voice can help free an innocent man!

You can contact my attorney if you have any questions about my case, and/or if you are interested in learning what you can do to help...

Thank you for your time and attention on this very important matter.


Sean K. Ellis

( )
Re: Dorchester man seeks new trial, citing withheld evidence, police corruption
25 Feb 2014
Lawyer cites trouble with fingerprints as evidence
February 6, 2004 ( )

The lawyer for a man waiting to be retried in the 1993 slaying of a Boston police detective wants to quash key fingerprint evidence, citing last month's exoneration of a Roxbury man who was convicted largely because of a misidentified fingerprint.

The lawyer for Terry L. Patterson said the discrediting of evidence that had led to the conviction of Stephan Cowans shows that fingerprint analysis, long considered the gold standard for identifying criminals, is inherently unreliable. Cowans was convicted of wounding another Boston officer in an unrelated 1997 shooting.

"The Cowans case illustrates that forensic fingerprint identification is the emperor with no clothes," said John H. Cunha Jr. His argument appears to be the first attempt by a defense lawyer to use Cowans's wrongful conviction to derail another Suffolk County criminal case.

The Boston Police Department, which processed prints in both cases, isn't the problem, Cunha said. "The entire methodology is nonsense," he said.

Arguments against the reliability of fingerprinting are being made more frequently by defense lawyers across the country. Fingerprinting enjoyed an impeccable reputation as a crimefighting tool for most of the last century, but its scientific underpinnings have recently been questioned.

Cunha has requested fingerprint and DNA evidence from the Cowans case to bolster his motion to suppress fingerprint evidence against Patterson, one of two men convicted in the notorious 1993 slaying of Detective John J. Mulligan, who was shot five times in the face as he sat in his car in the parking lot of a Roslindale shopping center. Patterson's conviction was overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court three years ago because of an error by his trial lawyer. Since then, Patterson, 30, has been held without bail at the Nashua Street Jail.

Suffolk Assistant District Attorney David E. Meier responded in court documents that he would supply the evidence and that he welcomed a hearing on the admissibility of fingerprints, both in the Patterson case and in general. Meier, who represented the district attorney's office when Cowans was freed last month, plans to personally retry the Patterson case.

Other documents filed by Meier in the Patterson case show that the Boston police fingerprint examiner who identified Patterson's prints on the Ford Explorer in which Mulligan was shot was not one of two examiners who misidentified a thumbprint found in the Cowans case.

No hearing on the request to suppress the evidence has been set.

Cowans walked out of Suffolk Superior Court a free man on Jan. 23 after serving 6 1/2 years in prison for a crime he always insisted he did not commit. He had been found guilty in 1998 of shooting Sergeant Gregory Gallagher in the buttocks in a Roxbury backyard, but recent DNA analysis determined that clothing discarded by the gunman was worn by someone else.

Meier had initially said he would retry Cowans using "compelling" fingerprint evidence, but reversed himself two days later after a new analysis determined that a thumbprint on a glass mug was not Cowans's.

Hours after Cowans's release, Boston's acting police commissioner, James M. Hussey, said his department had asked the International Association for Identification, the world's largest and oldest forensic group, and the FBI to help it form an outside investigative team to review Boston police procedures for analyzing fingerprints.

Defense lawyers and prosecutors immediately predicted that the botched fingerprint analysis would lead to challenges of other criminal convictions in cases involving Boston police and fingerprint evidence.

Patterson and Sean K. Ellis, friends from Dorchester, were tried separately on charges of killing Mulligan as he worked a late-night paid detail outside a Walgreens drug store on Sept. 26, 1993. Ellis was tried three times before a Suffolk Superior Court jury convicted him of first-degree murder.

Patterson was also found guilty of first-degree murder after a jury deliberated for three hours, but the SJC overturned the conviction in December 2000, ruling that Patterson's lawyer should have removed herself from the case and testified as a defense witness when it was clear she had information that disputed police testimony.

Cunha has been challenging the fingerprint evidence in the Patterson case since October 2002, when he first filed a motion asking that fingerprint evidence used in the original trial not be admitted when he is retried.

Sergeant Robert Foilb testified at the original trial that three latent fingerprints recovered on the driver's side window of Mulligan's car belonged to Patterson. But Foilb reached that conclusion, Cunha said, by adding up matching so-called "ridge characteristics" from three fingers -- six on one, two on another, and five on the third -- a method Cunha this week called "crazy."

"You cannot make an identification of somebody from a limited number of comparison points, particularly when they're fingerprints like you find in [criminal] cases," Cunha said. "They're partial, they're smudged, they're distorted."

If Cunha's hearing is granted, he evidently intends to put fingerprint evidence on trial. He contends that juries erroneously believe that such evidence is infallible because it has been portrayed that way in movies, television shows, and elsewhere.

Fingerprint evidence has come under increasing attack in recent years. In January 2002, US District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak of Philadelphia stunned the legal community when he ruled that fingerprint evidence does not meet the standards of scientific scrutiny established by the US Supreme Court and said fingerprint examiners could not testify that a suspect's fingerprints match those found at a crime scene. Two months later, however, Pollak, a former dean of Yale Law School, reversed himself, saying, "I have changed my mind."

Simon A. Cole, the author of "Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification," agreed with Cunha that some people have an inflated view of the reliability of fingerprint evidence. One of the problems, he said, is that law enforcement officials have never concurred on how many points of comparison must match before one can confidently say that a particular print belongs to an individual.

However, Cole disputed Cunha's assertion that fingerprint evidence is simply too flawed to be useful.