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Fred Weichel

Other Norfolk County, Massachussetts Exonerations
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Just after midnight on May 31, 1980, 25-year-old Robert LaMonica left his job at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission and drove to his apartment in the Boston, Massachusetts suburb of Braintree. At around 12:30 a.m., he parked his car next to his apartment building on Faxon Street and stepped out. Four gunshots were fired. LaMonica was hit twice, once in the head, and died.

Across the street in Faxon Park, Thomas Foley and three friends heard the gunshots. Foley, who later admitted he had consumed four or five beers that night, said he saw a man running down Faxon Street and get into a car that sped off. Foley said he had a full-face view of the man for one second when the man passed under a street light.

Later that morning, Foley assisted a detective in creating a composite sketch. Foley said the man had dark curly hair and a slightly twisted nose, as if it had been broken. He said the man had bushy eyebrows and long sideburns, was 5 feet 9 inches tall, and weighed 175 pounds.

On June 1, 1980, detectives said a confidential informant implicated 28-year-old Fred Weichel and Thomas Barrett in the shooting. Detectives prepared a photographic lineup, and Foley said that the photograph of Weichel was “a pretty good likeness” of the running man. That same day, the murder weapon, a 38-caliber revolver, was found on the street about a half-mile from the shooting.

On June 12, Foley and two of LaMonica’s brothers accompanied two Massachusetts state troopers on a drive through South Boston. They viewed several hundred people on the streets. Eventually Foley spotted Weichel and identified him as the running man.

Weichel was arrested in August 1980 and indicted by a grand jury on a charge of first-degree murder. He went to trial in Norfolk County Superior Court in August 1981.

The prosecution presented evidence suggesting that the motive for the murder stemmed from an incident about two weeks earlier when Weichel, Barrett, and some of their friends had a confrontation with LaMonica and his friends. Barrett had choked Francis Shea, a friend of LaMonica’s, until he lost consciousness. Shea was revived and threatened to kill Barrett. Weichel told Shea that if Barrett was harmed, he would kill Shea and his body would never be found.

Foley testified and identified Weichel as the running man. Foley’s three friends were unable to identify Weichel, but testified they heard the shots and saw a man run from the parking lot next to LaMonica’s apartment building. Foley admitted on cross-examination that he was at least 180 feet away from the running man, and that Weichel was two inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter than the man Foley had described. Foley also admitted that Weichel had different eyebrows and did not have a crooked nose.

The defense sought to introduce evidence suggesting that the true motive for the murders arose from a 1974 homicide for which LaMonica’s father went to prison. LaMonica’s family members and girlfriend had suggested this as a possible motive immediately after the shooting. However, the trial judge refused to allow the evidence to be presented.

The defense called witnesses who testified that prior to midnight, Weichel was in downtown Boston at a bar in the Financial District called Exchange. Shortly after midnight, they said, he was in another bar called Triple O’s Lounge, which was regularly frequented by James “Whitey” Bulger—a feared South Boston gangster—and members of his Winter Hill gang.

Kevin McCormack, owner of the Exchange, said he saw Weichel leave the bar shortly before midnight. Kevin Weeks, night manager at Triple O’s and a high-ranking Bulger gang member, testified that Weichel was in the bar at around 12:15 a.m.—about the same time LaMonica was killed.

In rebuttal, the prosecution attacked the credibility of the alibi witnesses—two were longtime friends of Weichel and one was engaged to Thomas Barrett’s sister.

On August 20, 1981, the jury convicted Weichel of first-degree murder and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld the conviction in 1983.

In January 2002, Weichel filed a motion for a new trial. He included a sworn affidavit from a former high-ranking Bulger gang member, Patrick Nee, who said that Bulger told him that Weichel did not kill LaMonica. Nee asserted that on the night of the killing, Weichel was in fact in the Exchange bar where he was seen by then-FBI agent John J. Connolly, Jr.

At the time of the LaMonica murder, Bulger was not only a crime boss, but also a FBI informant, and Connolly had been his handler since 1975. Nee said that Connolly had not come forward because Bulger told Connolly not to get involved.

Weichel also submitted an affidavit from Brian Goodman, a former South Boston resident. Goodman said that Kevin Weeks, night manager at Triple O’s, told him that Connolly knew Weichel was innocent, but was ordered by Bulger to remain quiet.

In addition, a former enforcer for Bulger’s gang, William Barnoski, told an investigator for Weichel’s lawyers that Bulger talked about the LaMonica murder several times and joked about the fact that Weichel was serving life in prison for a crime he did not commit. Barnoski said he believed Bulger knew who actually committed the murder.

The motion also included a letter written in March 1982 by Thomas Barrett to Weichel’s mother, Gloria, confessing to the murder. The letter was discovered in 2000 after Gloria Weichel died. Family members believed she kept it secret out of fear that if she disclosed it, she would be harmed.

Barrett sent the letter from California where he fled after LaMonica was killed. “I haven’t had a good night sleep in almost a year because I know Fred did not kill Bobby LaMonica,” Barrett wrote. “I did. Yes, Gloria, I killed Bobby LaMonica.”

By 2002, Bulger had been a fugitive since 1995. Connolly had retired in 1990 and was under indictment on federal racketeering and obstruction of justice charges for covering up crimes committed by Bulger and Bulger’s top lieutenant, Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi.

Ultimately, Connolly, who was also accused of tipping Bulger off that he was under investigation and allowing Bulger to go underground, was convicted in federal court and sentenced to prison. He also was convicted in Massachusetts Superior Court of second-degree murder in the death of John Callahan, who Bulger and Flemmi killed after Connolly told them that the FBI was investigating Callahan’s ties to Bulger’s gang.

In October 2004, following an evidentiary hearing, Norfolk County Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein granted Weichel a new trial based only on the evidence of Barrett’s confession to the murder in the letter to Weichel’s mother. The judge also cited the testimony of a woman who lived with Barrett in California. The woman testified that Barrett “wanted to kill himself because (Weichel) was taking the rap for something he did…He said, ‘Freddie’s doing my time for me.’” Barrett himself was called as a witness at the evidentiary hearing, but refused to testify and invoked his 5th Amendment protection from self-incrimination.

The prosecution appealed and in May 2006, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reversed Judge Borenstein’s ruling. The court called the narrative in Weichel’s case “bizarre” and “worthy of a crime novella,” but also said that the letter from Barrett was not admissible evidence because it was uncorroborated and not trustworthy.

In 2011, Bulger was captured in Santa Monica, California, where he apparently had been living with his girlfriend since the 1990s. FBI agents discovered $882,000 in cash hidden in the wall of his apartment. In 2013, he was convicted of murder and other charges, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

That same year, Weichel, by then represented by lawyers working with the New England Innocence Project, filed another motion for a new trial. Weichel’s attorneys discovered a police report written on June 9, 1980, nine days after the murder. The two-paragraph report was written by detective James Leahy, who said he believed the composite sketch resembled Rocco Balliro.

Balliro had pled guilty to the murders of his girlfriend and her two-year-old son in 1963. Records showed that Balliro, who was serving a life sentence, was released from prison on a 12-hour furlough the day before LaMonica was killed. Balliro failed to return and was finally arrested in January 1981—eight months after LaMonica’s murder.

Leahy’s report said he showed the composite to 10 guards at the state prison in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, where Balliro was held, and they all “seemed to think it was Rocco.” The motion for new trial contended the report was never disclosed to Weichel’s defense attorneys, and could have been used to cast doubt on the eyewitness testimony from Foley.

In 2014, Weichel’s lawyers filed several letters Bulger wrote from prison saying that Weichel was innocent, but refusing to identify LaMonica’s killer except to say it was a close friend of Weichel.

In April 2017, Superior Court Judge Raymond P. Veary Jr. granted the motion for a new trial and vacated Weichel’s conviction. Judge Veary concluded that if the defense had Leary’s report, Weichel’s trial could have had “a very different conclusion.”

On April 27, 2017, Weichel was released from prison on $5,000 bail pending a retrial. He had been in custody for more than 35 years since his 1981 conviction.

The prosecution appealed and on July 21, 2017, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upheld Judge Veary’s decision granting Weichel a new trial. On August 7, 2017, the prosecution dismissed the charge.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 8/10/2017
State:Massachusetts
County:Norfolk
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1980
Convicted:1981
Exonerated:2017
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Caucasian
Sex:Male
Age at the date of crime:28
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No