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Anthony Mazza

Longest Incarcerations
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Anthony Mazza spent more than 47 years in prison for murder and robbery before his conviction was vacated in 2020. His case is the longest incarceration for a wrongful conviction in the Registry’s database.

On July 5, 1972, police in Boston, Massachusetts responded to a call about a foul smell at an apartment in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood.

Robert Anderson lived in the apartment, and when the police knocked, he broke a window, jumped out, and ran. He was arrested on July 6. Anderson would later say he ran because of outstanding warrants.

Inside the apartment, police found the body of 34-year-old Peter Armata, a bank manager, tied up in the closet. An autopsy would later report that Armata had been strangled, but no time of death could be established.

Police questioned Anderson, and he said that he didn’t kill Armata. He said that he had returned home from a night of drinking at about 2:45 a.m. on July 1, and found Mazza standing over the body of a man. Anderson said Mazza was wearing leather gloves, and the victim was face up, with his pants pockets turned inside out.

Mazza, who was 25 years old, and Anderson, who was 20 years old, had met several months earlier. Anderson said he had agreed on June 30 to let Mazza stay at his apartment for a few days.

Anderson said he asked Mazza what happened, and Mazza said only that there had been a struggle. Anderson said they discussed how to dispose of the body, and agreed to do it the next day. Before that happened, Anderson said, Mazza gave Anderson some of Armata’s jewelry and the keys to the victim’s Grand Prix. Then, Anderson said, Mazza tied up Armata’s hands and feet, and the two men moved the body into a closet near the kitchen. Anderson said that Mazza called for a cab, and the two men made plans to meet the next day, when Anderson drove the Grand Prix to Mazza’s apartment.

Mazza was also arrested on July 6, 1972. Police searched his apartment the next day and found Armata’s driver’s license and bank identification card.

Both Mazza and Anderson were initially each charged with murder, but Anderson’s charges were later dropped after he testified before a grand jury.

Mazza’s trial began on March 23, 1973, in Suffolk County Superior Court. Anderson testified at length, and his answers often contradicted his statements to police and to the grand jury. He gave different accounts of his involvement in hiding Armata’s body. He said Mazza placed a lock on the closet, although police didn’t find a lock when they entered the apartment.

As a later court ruling would note: “In many instances, Robert answered both ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the same question posed successively, prompting defense counsel to ask him whether he simply was saying the first thing that came to mind, and whether he knew the difference between telling the truth and lying. On at least one occasion, Robert stated that he ‘[didn't] know’ whether his prior testimony was truthful or fabricated, nor did he know the difference between telling the truth and telling a lie.”

For example, Anderson testified that he didn’t know the Grand Prix was stolen. When Mazza’s attorney, Monroe Inker, confronted him on this statement, Anderson backpedaled and said he knew it was stolen all along. Anderson also said he discarded the car key in the incinerator of a friend’s building. Police recovered the key. Anderson said he sold Armata’s watch to that friend.

Several other witnesses shored up the state’s case. Florence Johnson testified that she saw a thin man with dark hair, mustache, and sideburns outside Anderson’s apartment building at about 2:30 a.m. on July 1. In the courtroom, she identified Mazza as that man.

Another witness said a man matching that description was seen with Armata at a club about an hour earlier, but he did not make a courtroom identification of Mazza.

Anderson’s middle brother, Michael, testified that he saw Mazza sitting in the Grand Prix on July 1, and also saw him the next day. At the second meeting, Michael said, Mazza told him he was looking for Robert in order to retrieve the Grand Prix.

Anderson’s younger brother, William, also testified and said he saw Mazza at the apartment on July 1 and July 2. He said that while Mazza was in another room, Robert took a key from a drawer, unlocked the closet door, and showed him Armata’s body. William also said Robert gave him Armata’s ring.

While Mazza didn’t testify, Inker presented an alibi defense. One of his roommates, William Atwood, said that he had been out with Mazza on the night Armata died, going to bars and restaurants, and they had only been apart for perhaps 15 minutes.

Atwood said that on the morning of July 1, Anderson showed up at their apartment and said he needed to talk with Mazza. Atwood said Anderson shook Mazza awake and started "bragging" about having convinced a man who was supposed to be gay to go to his apartment, "and he somehow got a stocking around his neck, held it around his neck for a few minutes, let him drop to the floor, and . . . took his money, his watch and his ring, his credit cards, and threw him in the closet."

Atwood said Robert showed Atwood the watch and the ring, then “flashed” the credit cards and asked Mazza to go shopping. When Mazza returned later that day, Atwood said, he had a new outfit.

The jury convicted Mazza of first-degree murder and robbery on April 3, 1973. He received a prison sentence of life without parole on the murder conviction and a concurrent sentence of five to 10 years in prison on the robbery conviction.

Mazza’s initial appeal was based on whether his limited intelligence entitled him to a reduction in degree of guilt based on diminished capacity of criminal responsibility. At a pre-trial hearing, Inker had successfully argued that Mazza’s mental deficiencies – he was functionally illiterate and had been in special-education classes for most of his time in school – prevented him from understanding the Miranda warning read to him by police, making his statement to police inadmissible. The contents of that statement are unavailable, but jurors did not hear the statement or any evidence regarding Mazza’s mental abilities.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rejected this appeal in 1974, writing that the testimony showed that Mazza had the capability of committing the murder and then trying to cover it up.

In 1977, Mazza filed a pro se motion for a new trial based on four affidavits from prisoners who claimed Anderson had acknowledged committing perjury at the trial and framing Mazza for Armata’s murder. The motion was slightly amended in 1978, but for reasons that aren’t clear in the court record, this motion was never acted upon.

In 2006, Mazza filed another motion for a new trial, based on a statement uncovered the year earlier through a protracted public-records request. In that statement, made to police on July 10, 1972, William Anderson suggested Robert Anderson was more intimately involved in Armata’s death than any of the brothers’ trial testimony indicated. The motion said this statement was not disclosed to Mazza’s attorney at trial.

According to this statement, Robert had given William the ring as a birthday present on July 1. William visited the next day, and Robert asked William – when Mazza was in the other room – if he would "help him move somebody from the premises." When William declined, the statement said, Robert became angry, used a key to unlock the door to a closet, and showed William the body. The hands and feet of the body were tied up, and there was a "nylon stocking or something" around the mouth. William said Robert gave him a knife to cut the nylon stocking, but William gave it back. Robert then proceeded to cut the nylon stocking from the victim's mouth and the "rope" from his wrists. Robert then cleaned the knife and put it in the sink. In the statement, William said he continued to resist helping with the body, and Robert told him that he planned to put it in a car and dump it in the river.

The statement and the affidavits were combined into one motion, which a superior court judge declined to grant in 2011. The state said it had disclosed all documents, and there was no proof that Mazza’s attorney, who had died in 2006, didn’t have this statement. In addition, the judge said that Mazza had waived his claims to the affidavits, because he never sought to push forward his 1978 motion.

Mazza was able to force a hearing on the affidavits, which was delayed for several years as his legal team attempted to find these witnesses and then convince them to testify. That effort was unsuccessful, and in 2018, Mazza’s appeal was rejected in superior court. The judge wrote that the affidavits in and of themselves did not evince "persuasive assurances of trustworthiness" and that Mazza hadn’t established that the state failed to disclose William Anderson’s statement.

Mazza appealed. While his attorney, John Cuhna Jr., couldn’t directly prove that prosecutors had failed to disclose William Anderson’s statement, he had indirect proof based on Inker’s cross-examination of William Anderson, which included no references to the previous statement to police. The state argued that the limited cross-examination was a strategic move by Inker because he didn’t want to impeach William. Cunha said in oral arguments that “This isn't impeaching William. This is eliciting affirmative evidence of Robert's culpability.”

On April 21, 2020, the Supreme Judicial Court vacated Mazza’s conviction.

While prosecutors said Inker’s minimal cross-examination of William Anderson had been based on trial tactics, the court wrote: “This argument rings hollow. Defense counsel would not have been limited to using the statement for impeachment purposes. He also could have used it to refresh William's recollection of other pertinent details of Robert's treatment of the body and plans to dispose of it, just as he used the prior statement of Robert's other brother, Michael, to refresh his recollection concerning the whereabouts of the defendant on July 1, 1972.”

The court noted that all of Mazza’s previous attorneys who were still alive said they had not seen William Anderson’s statement prior to its release in 2006. It sidestepped the issue of whether prosecutors had failed to disclose this evidence, describing the statement simply as “newly discovered.” But it said the statement bolstered Mazza’s defense by demonstrating “that Robert had control over the victim's body and belongings, and had a plan for disposing of the body.”

Mazza was released from the state prison in Norfolk on June 3, 2020. He was now 73 years old.

The state dismissed the charges on March 3, 2021.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 6/13/2021
Last Updated: 6/13/2021
State:Massachusetts
County:Suffolk
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Robbery
Reported Crime Date:1972
Convicted:1973
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:Life without parole
Race/Ethnicity:White
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:25
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No