On May 16, 1988, two men forced their way through the kitchen door into a home in Southbridge, Massachusetts where one stood guard while the other attempted to rape a woman at knifepoint. Afterward, both men fled through the kitchen door and the woman called police.
The victim, who is white, called police and provided a description that put her attacker’s height at 6 feet, two inches tall. She said both men were Hispanic. She worked with police to create a composite sketch and also took a drive with police through the surrounding neighborhood. During the drive, she saw a man she thought resembled the attacker. The man was the brother of 22-year-old Anselmo Aviles.
In late May, police summoned Aviles and his brother to the police station where they were photographed because they both bore a resemblance to the composite sketch. When their photographs were placed in a photographic lineup, the victim identified Aviles as her attacker. She did not identify his brother and never indentified anyone else in the attack.
Aviles, who had voluntarily returned from Puerto Rico where he had gone to attend his sister’s high school graduation when the police contacted him, was arrested on June 1, 1988.
In October 1988, Aviles was indicted on charges of assault with intent to commit rape, armed assault in a dwelling and armed burglary.
At trial in Worcester County Superior Court in January 1989, the victim identified Aviles in court as her attacker, even though he was 5 feet, 8 inches tall—several inches shorter than her initial description. She testified that she first identified him after viewing a photographic lineup at the police station. There was no physical evidence linking Aviles to the crime.
Aviles, his parents and a 13-year-old sister testified that Aviles had been rear-ended in a traffic accident on May 8—eight days before the attack—and had been on crutches from the time of the accident until May 21 or 23 when the family went to Puerto Rico for the high school graduation of one of his sisters. The records of his hospital visit on the day of the accident were entered into evidence.
Aviles said he was home watching television on the night of the attack. He said he had moved to the United States from Puerto Rico five years earlier when he was 18 and had never been arrested or charged with a crime.
Although his defense attorney had, in his opening statement, said the defense would be an alibi defense, the lawyer failed to argue it in closing argument. He attacked the credibility of the victim, who at one point early in the investigation had identified Aviles’s brother, whom Aviles resembled, as her attacker. The lawyer failed to request an alibi jury instruction and admitted to the jury that Aviles’s family members were biased because they were related to Aviles.
On January 23, 1989, the jury convicted Aviles on all three counts. He was sentenced to 16 to 18 years in prison.
On August 15, 1991, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts upheld the conviction, but remanded the case for a hearing on whether Aviles’s lawyer had provided ineffective legal assistance.
After a five day hearing, the trial court ruled against Aviles, saying that his lawyer had provided adequate legal assistance.
On May 15, 1996, the Appeals Court of Massachusetts reversed and set aside the conviction. The court found that Aviles’s trial attorney could have called two physicians who treated Aviles after the car accident. One of those, a chiropractor, could have testified at his trial that she treated him almost daily after the accident, including the day of the attack. She could have testified that he was experiencing neck and back pain and that he was on crutches.
Further, the lawyer could have brought in work records showing that he was off work until September 1988. Moreover, Aviles’s civil attorney, whom Aviles retained to seek damages as a result of the accident, could have testified that when he saw Aviles on May 19, three days after the attack, Aviles was in “obvious” pain and was unable to sit down.
Other witnesses who were never contacted included neighbors who saw him on crutches during that time period and the man who was in the car with Aviles when the accident occurred.
On April 24, 1997, Worcester County prosecutors dismissed the charges.
Aviles later filed a civil suit against the estate of his trial attorney, who had died, and settled for an undisclosed amount.
– Maurice Possley