On a hot night in July 1995, Janet Downing, a 42-year-old mother of four, was brutally stabbed 98 times in her home in Somerville, a city two miles northwest of Boston. Within hours, a suspect was identified: 15-year-old Eddie O’Brien, the best friend of one of Janet’s sons.
But why Eddie? He had no prior history of criminal behavior. He was not mentally ill. He had neither motive nor opportunity to commit the crime. Others had both. Yet none of that mattered because powers far beyond his Somerville neighborhood decided that Eddie needed to be guilty.
As laid out in THE POLITICS OF MURDER: The Power And Ambition Behind “The Altar Boy Murder Case”, the timing of this case did not bode well for Eddie. A movement hoping to stop the supposed rise of young “superpredators” was sweeping the nation, and juvenile offenders were the targets. Both the Massachusetts governor and an elected district attorney who personally litigated this case supported juvenile justice reform, and both aspired to higher offices.
“A chilling story about corruption, political power and a stacked judicial system in Massachusetts.”–John Ferak, bestselling author of FAILURE OF JUSTICE.
Eddie O’Brien’s case garnered both local and national publicity: He was the youthful Irish Catholic boy next door. His grandfather was the retired chief of the Somerville Police Department. Court TV covered the trial in adult court gavel to gavel, calling it the altar boy murder case. His highly publicized case changed the juvenile laws in Massachusetts. Other states began to follow suit. But did the justice system fail Eddie?
That’s the contention of author-attorney Margo Nash in her explosive expose, THE POLITICS OF MURDER. Appointed Eddie’s guardian ad litem, Nash attended every court session and eventually gained access to all his files. Now after painstaking research and examination of each step of the investigation, trial transcripts and the forensic evidence, Nash makes the case that Eddie could not have committed the crime and that other viable suspects were never properly considered.
The Innocence Program has recently taken on Eddie’s case. Now readers can decide if politics sent an innocent boy to adult prison for the rest of his life.
From The Author:
After working for Department of Social Services (DSS) for five years I opened a private practice specializing in juvenile law and parents’ rights. I also acted as a bar advocate (something like a part-time public defender); the monetary rewards were minimal, but it gave me the opportunity to provide a public service.
I was in court on other business the day Eddie O’Brian was arraigned. To me he looked just like a scared little boy standing in an adult court. I knew about the case because of all the press coverage. Eddie, a former altar boy and grandson of a retired police chief, had been accused of murdering Janet Downing, his friend’s mother, by brutally stabbing her more than 97 times.
“You don’t need to be a forensic expert to understand that it’s impossible to commit that homicide, a homicide that included a struggle traversing three rooms and a flight of stairs, and not get a single drop of blood on a white shirt, green shorts, or black sneakers. And yet the police charged Eddie O’Brien with the murder on the night of July 25, 1995. The fact that he had no blood on his clothes, in the creases of his hands, under his fingernails, or on his size 15 sneakers was just an inconvenient truth.” – THE POLITICS OF MURDER
Eddie’s father had been named as a witness for the Commonwealth and Eddie’s first lawyers felt that he would benefit from having a guardian-ad-litem, someone who would look after Eddie’s interests. They asked the presiding judge to appoint me to the case.
This was a high-profile trial and I had no experience with murder cases. Nevertheless, it was an opportunity to be an advocate for a 15-year-old kid who seemed totally overwhelmed. I agreed because I wanted to help Eddie in any way I could.
Eddie was tried and convicted by the press the first week and was later convicted again by a jury in a perfect storm of professional ineffectiveness, political ambition, and public panic. This horrific miscarriage of justice did not fully come to light until Eddie and I recently had the opportunity to review boxes and boxes of court transcripts and legal files from his case.
“In 2015, Eddie and I spent a lot of time talking, reading old transcripts, and putting the pieces of a fractured puzzle together. I cringe about having completely missed the big picture so many years ago.
To be fair, the big picture took years to develop and emerge into a legible image. When these events were actually going on, I was focused on far more immediate issues: his detention, the integrity of the police investigation, his transfer hearings, the appeals, the removal of a judge, and the central question: who really murdered Janet Downing?
Today I finally understand what actually happened to Eddie O’Brien and why he has spent more than half of his life behind bars.” – THE POLITICS OF MURDER
In writing this book I want people to learn the real story of the Eddie O’Brien case, told here for the first time. Eddie is the innocent victim of a broken and sometimes corrupt system. Janet Downing’s true murderer was never charged, and may still be at large.