Victim: His mother Yoshiko, 49, his father Wilfred, 45, and his sister Dorina, 20
Age at time of murder: 15
Crime date: January 27, 1978
Crime location: Topsfield
Crimes: Mass murder & familicide
Weapon: .22 caliber rifle
Murder method: Gunshots
Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to life with parole
Incarceration status: Incarcerated at MCI Norfolk
Brown murdered his parents and sister in their home. He first shot his mother Yoshiko in the head, before turning the gun on his sister, shooting her twice in the back, twice in the chest, and in the head. When his father returned, he shot him six times, including once in the head. His LWOP sentenced were reduced to life with parole after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that juvenile LWOP was unconstitutional. The killer had approximately 20 disciplinary infractions while incarcerated and was denied parole.
The defendant, Alfred K. Brown, was fifteen years old when he was indicted for murder in the first degree of Wilfred, Yoshika and Dorina Brown, his parents and sister. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He was convicted of the crimes charged and sentenced to three concurrent life terms in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Walpole. The defendant made a timely motion for a new trial, which was denied. He contends that certain evidence was improperly admitted and he appeals the judgments of conviction and the denial of his motion for a new trial, which was denied. He contends that certain evidence was improperly admitted and he appeals the judgments of conviction and the denial of his motion for a new trial. We find no error in the convictions or the denial of the defendant’s motion, and there is nothing which warrants the exercise of the powers granted us by G. L. c. 278, Section 33E. We affirm the judgments of conviction.
The evidence introduced at trial tended to show the following. Alfred K. Brown was born in Salem, Massachusetts. His mother was Japanese and his father Caucasian. The defendant lived with his parents and his two older sisters in Danvers, Massachusetts, until he was about eight years old. At that time, the family moved to Japan, where the defendant spent the next seven years. In the summer of 1977, the Brown family (with the exception of the defendant’s oldest sister) returned to Massachusetts and settled in Topsfield. The defendant enrolled as a member of the sophomore class at Masconomet Regional High School and began attending classes when school resumed in September, 1977.
The defendant’s fellow students described him as a quiet, average student. He received average grades in his classes with the exception of a geometry class, which he failed. His teachers described him as quiet, average and shy, but not extraordinarily so. He was able, despite his shyness, to work with others. He participated in the high school photography club, and students who worked beside him in the darkroom noticed nothing unusual. None of the teachers or students who testified at trial could recollect any incidents indicating that the defendant might have been treated differently from other students because of his background.
His personal library consisted mainly of what the psychiatrist called by the defense characterized as “terrorist” books [Note 1] and books and magazines on firearms.
In the months after the Brown family returned to Massachusetts, the defendant had entertained thoughts of suicide. He had also considered killing his parents: “The music I played was too loud, I would sleep too late and they were bugging me and I just got sick of it.” [Note 2] He said that, shortly before the shootings, “My mother was mad at me because I flunked geometry. I just got mad and decided to get it over with.” When asked what his mother had said to him at the time, the defendant replied, “She said `why don’t you try harder.’ “
On the evening of Friday, January 27, 1978, the defendant had just finished reading “The Glory Boys.” In the final chapter the hero is executed by being shot in the head. Approximately ten minutes later, the defendant shot his mother with his .22 caliber rifle. The bullet struck her in the chin and passed through her head, killing her. The defendant’s twenty year old sister had tried to escape. The defendant shot her twice in the back, twice in the chest and once in the head. When the defendant’s father arrived home, the defendant shot him six times (three times in the head) because his father “drove in when I was leaving and I had to get him too.” His father had time only to say, “[N]o.”
On the refrigerator, near where the bodies of his mother and sister lay, the defendant wrote, “I wish to die,” and signed it, “Al.” He packed a suitcase with some clothing,
an assortment of tools, ammunition for his .22 caliber rifle and his father’s .30-.30 caliber rifle and a bottle of whiskey. He took from his father’s wallet his father’s driver’s license, pistol permit and approximately $280 in cash. He loaded the suitcase, his .22 caliber rifle and his father’s rifle, “as an extra,” into the trunk of one of the family’s two cars, a green Plymouth automobile.
At approximately 8:30 P.M., Officer Robert T. Geary of the Topsfield police force discovered the car stuck in a snowbank in Topsfield. The motor was running, the transmission had been left in reverse (it was apparently an automatic transmission), the doors were locked, the keys were in the ignition and a snow shovel lay outside the car next to the driver’s door. Geary radioed his dispatcher and ascertained that the car was registered to Wilfred Brown, the defendant’s father. When the dispatcher informed Geary that no one was answering the telephone at the Brown residence, he drove there and knocked on the door. The lights were on, but no one responded. Geary returned to the Plymouth automobile, summoned a tow truck and had the car towed to the Topsfield police station.
Shortly before 8 P.M. that same evening, an off-duty Saugus police officer was driving through Topsfield in his own car when he observed a brown Ford Pinto automobile being driven erratically. The officer flashed his lights and used his horn in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Pinto’s driver to stop. He then drove to the Topsfield police station. He described the Pinto, said that it had Massachusetts license plates containing the numerals “299,” and relayed his observations. His report was received shortly after 8 P.M.
Chief Douglas Warren of the Boxford police department was driving with his wife and children at 8:10 P.M. in his family car equipped with a police radio when he heard a broadcast by the Boxford dispatcher of the information reported by the off-duty Saugus police officer. Chief Warren intercepted the Pinto and radioed ahead to Officer David French of the Boxford police department, who was stationed
in a cruiser at the Masconomet Regional High School. Officer French made an unsuccessful attempt to apprehend the driver and then, followed by Chief Warren, pursued the Pinto at speeds of over fifty miles an hour. Near the Middleton town line, the car struck two snowbanks, struck and snapped a utility pole, and tipped over onto the driver’s door. The officers, afraid that the vehicle would burst into flames, immediately removed the driver.
The driver of the Pinto, identified as the defendant, struggled with the officers. Officers French handcuffed the defendant, who then became very calm. When asked, the defendant told Officer French his name. French placed him under arrest for driving while under the influence of intoxicating liquor, [Note 3] driving to endanger and speeding. When French asked the defendant to produce his driver’s license, the defendant told French that he was only fifteen years old and did not have one.
Officer French placed the defendant in the back of his cruiser and recited a partial list of the warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1965). [Note 4] French told the defendant that he had the right to take a breathalyzer test to determine whether he had been operating under the influence. French explained, in response to the defendant’s question, that a breathalyzer test determines the alcohol content of the blood and that, if he passed the test, the charge of operating under the influence would be dropped. The defendant agreed to take the test. French told the defendant that he would be taken to the Topsfield police station for the test [Note 5] and that, as soon as they reached a telephone,
the defendant would have to call his parents. On route, French asked the defendant why he had his father’s car. The defendant stated that there had been a fight at home and he had taken it. French also testified that, during the conversations he had with the defendant, his voice was very clear and moderately low.
When Officer French and the defendant entered the Topsfield police station at 8:50 P.M., Sergeant Arthur Heard of the Topsfield police department, the breathalyzer operator, was waiting. The defendant’s handcuffs were removed and he took a seat in the main room (approximately twenty feet square) of the station. French told Sergeant Heard about the accident and the charges against the defendant.
Heard handed the defendant a legal-size sheet on which was printed (1) information about the right of a person charged with driving while under the influence to a medical examination, (2) information about the defendant’s right to make a telephone call, and (3) the defendant’s Miranda rights. The defendant read the information on the sheet, taking three to four minutes to do so. Heard asked the defendant if he understood what he had read; the defendant said that he did. When Heard asked if he wanted to take the breathalyzer test, the defendant agreed. At this time there were four police officers in the room: Officers French and DesMaisons, Sergeant Heard and Chief Moore, chief of the Topsfield police department. Geary also entered the room occasionally. Only Officer French was in uniform. [Note 6]
Officer French wrote out and handed to the defendant a citation charging him with operating under the influence, driving to endanger, speeding, and driving without a license. He told the defendant, “You have to call your parents. Call them now and tell them what’s happened.” The defendant walked to the telephone which was on a desk in the middle of the room, and dialed a telephone number. He put the receiver to his ear, listened for five or ten seconds,
then replaced the receiver and resumed his seat. Six or seven minutes later, another officer told the defendant, “Call your parents again. You have to get in touch with them.” The defendant again went to the telephone, dialed a telephone number, replaced the receiver and sat down.
Sergeant Heard took the defendant into an adjoining room where the breathalyzer equipment was located and administered the test. The defendant returned to the chair in the main room. The defendant’s blood alcohol content registered below .02 per cent. [Note 7] Heard entered the main room of the station and told the defendant, that because of the test results the charge of driving under the influence would be dropped. Heard also told the defendant, however, that he would still be held on the other charges. The defendant made no comment.
Within a few minutes, at approximately 9:15 P.M., Chief Moore told the defendant that he had to use the telephone to contact his parents, and that he would not be released until he contacted his parents. Sergeant Heard, speaking at the same time as Chief Moore, also told the defendant that he must call his parents. The defendant said, “I can’t contact them. They’re on the floor.” Officer French asked, “Who is on the floor?” The defendant replied, “My parents.” French said, “What do you mean?” “I shot them,” said the defendant. “You shot them with what?” asked French. “A gun.” “What kind of gun?” “A .22 rifle,” said the defendant. “Are they dead?” asked the officer. “Yes, I think so,” was the defendant’s reply. In response to another question, the defendant stated that the shootings had taken place approximately two hours earlier.
Chief Moore instructed the officers to handcuff the defendant again and to read him Miranda rights. Officer DesMaisons did so, pausing after every sentence to inquire
whether the defendant had understood; the defendant said that he did. When he had finished reading the warnings from a card, DesMaisons, the defendant and Officer French signed the card. Meanwhile, Chief Moore sent Sergeant Heard, Officer Geary and a third officer to the Brown residence, and dispatched an ambulance to the scene.
Chief Moore directed French to fingerprint the defendant, and French did so. French overheard DesMaisons ask the defendant if he had any brothers or sisters. The defendant said, “I have a sister. She’s on the porch. I shot her, too.” French also heard the defendant say that the guns were in the trunk of the Plymouth automobile.
Chief Moore received a call from Sergeant Heard at the Brown residence, confirming the defendant’s statements. Moore then placed the defendant under arrest on three counts of murder in the first degree. He instructed the defendant not to make any statements, not to offer any information and not to answer any questions. When the defendant, responding to the Chief’s question, said that he had no relatives in the area, Moore informed the defendant that he intended to call an attorney to represent him.
Chief Moore called a local attorney at approximately 9:30 P.M. The attorney arrived at the station at approximately 9:45 P.M. During that interval, Moore and other officers attempted to ascertain whether they should be looking for other victims. The defendant refused to answer their questions. When the attorney arrived, he conferred with the defendant who thereafter remained silent.
Shortly before midnight, Sergeant Heard left the Brown residence and drove to the home of the clerk for the First District Court of Essex County to obtain a warrant to search the trunk of Wilfred Brown’s Plymouth, which had been towed to the Topsfield police station earlier that evening. In his affidavit in support of the application for the search warrant, Sergeant Heard set forth the statements made by the defendant about the shootings and added the following sentence: “[The defendant] further states that he shot [the victims] with a gun which was in the trunk of his father’s
1972 Plymouth [automobile] Mass. registration 246 AKY.” A search warrant was issued, pursuant to which officers opened the trunk of the Plymouth automobile and found, among other things, the defendant’s .22 caliber rifle, his father’s rifle, the suitcase packed with clothing and ammunition for the guns. Tests of the .22 caliber rifle revealed that it was the gun used in the shootings. The contents of the car’s trunk subsequently were introduced in evidence.
Trial commenced on February 5, 1979, in the Superior Court in Essex County. The Commonwealth called as witnesses all the police officers who had spoken to the defendant during the events described above. The officers all testified that, during the time the defendant was in the police station, he appeared sober and was very calm. His voice was clear and low. When the defendant stated that he had killed his parents, his voice rose a little; otherwise, he spoke without expression. He voiced no regrets. The defendant did not complain while in the station. He did not ask for food or water and did not ask to use the toilet facilities. He understood English, spoke well and was cooperative. Chief Moore testified that the defendant seemed a normal, intelligent youngster when he came to the police station in August, 1977, with his father to obtain a firearm identification card [Note 8] and was “normal” — and still sane — on the night of the shootings. Officer French opined that the defendant was sane on that evening. Various school-mates and teachers testified, as summarized above, that the defendant appeared to be normal and intelligent.
After the Commonwealth rested, the defense put on its sole witness, a psychiatrist who had met with the defendant on two occasions shortly after his arrest and had spoken briefly with the defendant’s surviving sister. This witness read a report to the jury which she had prepared not long after examining the defendant.
The defendant told this psychiatrist that “he didn’t see anything wrong with murder or anything like that.” He said that he had killed his mother after a discussion of a failing grade, believing, “[T]hat would stop her from bugging me.” The psychiatrist wrote (and repeated at trial) that, “[a]sked directly whether he regretted having done it, he said he `guessed so’ — `since I got stuck in this place.’ Asked whether there was any act he would consider immoral or wrong, [the defendant] said `Yes, if I’d sat around and watched them die — if it wasn’t quick — it would be morally wrong; but I made sure they were dead — if they’re dead they can’t bug you about your grades.’ ” The defendant understood that his feeling about killing was unusual, and said that “since I would (still) kill if I got in a fight, they wouldn’t want me on the street.”
The defense expert opined that the defendant, although competent to stand trial, [Note 9] was “seriously mentally ill” with paranoid schizophrenia and that, “[a]lthough he may have had substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct,” she believed that “he did not have the capacity at the time of the shootings to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. His mental illness deprived him of the power to make the right choices governing his behavior.” In her report she added, however, that “[t]his diagnosis could be debated.” At trial, the psychiatrist stood by her earlier diagnosis.
The Commonwealth called in rebuttal a second psychiatrist who had interviewed the defendant at least eight times over a period of one year, had read the police reports and visited the scene of the shootings three times, and had talked to the defendant’s surviving sister on at least twenty occasions. He had also reviewed medical and psychiatric reports prepared by the staffs of two institutions to which the defendant had been sent for observation and examination.
The Commonwealth’s expert stated that extensive examinations of the defendant revealed that he suffered from no physical abnormalities, that he had experienced no hallucinations and was in contact with reality, that he was very cooperative and of above average intelligence. The psychiatrist found the defendant to be suffering from mental illness, which he diagnosed as latent schizophrenia, but “did not find sufficient evidence of mental disease or defect to take away criminal responsibility.”
The trial judge instructed the jury that they must find the defendant either guilty of murder in the first degree, guilty of murder in the second degree, not guilty, or not guilty by reason of insanity. With regard to the statements made by the defendant in the Topsfield police station, the judge instructed the jury that they must determine, in order to consider those statements in their deliberations, “[f]irst . . . that Mr. Brown made a statement. Secondly, you have to find that the statement consisted of particular words. Thirdly — and terribly important — you must find that the statement was made voluntarily. And fourthly — and terribly important — you must find that the statement was the product of a free and rational intellect. Otherwise you may not consider it at all.” The judge told the jury that, as they might have surmised, [Note 10] there had been a preliminary hearing to determine whether they could hear the defendant’s statements. The judge reiterated, however, that “whether you accept or reject that testimony is for you and for you alone.”
Immediately thereafter, the judge repeated the four findings that the jury must make in order to consider the defendant’s statements. He told them that, “[b]efore accepting a statement as the basis of an inference [that the defendant committed a crime], you must be satisfied beyond a reasonable
doubt that it was a reflection of free will and intellect.” He explained that a statement does not reflect free will or intellect if the speaker’s self-protective instincts have been overridden by force, fraud, compulsion or fear. He concluded by stating that “[t]he jury must determine whether in fact any statement was made by [the defendant] on January 27, 1978; and if it was made, whether it was voluntary, whether it was rational, and what was its ultimate effect.”
The judge also instructed the jury that they could find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree of both Wilfred Brown and Dorina Brown, if they found that the defendant had killed those victims either with deliberately premeditated malice aforethought or with extreme atrocity or cruelty, but that they could not find the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree of Yoshika Brown (his mother) on the ground that he murder was committed with extreme atrocity or cruelty. [Note 11] He carefully explained the concept of deliberately premeditated malice aforethought. He also instructed the jury that they could find the defendant not guilty if they found that the Commonwealth had not sustained its heavy burden of proof.
With regard to the defendant’s insanity defense, the judge properly instructed the jury that “[a] defendant is not [criminally] responsible if, as a result of either mental disease or defect, that person lacks . . . substantial capacity either to appreciate the criminality or wrongfulness of his conduct, or lacks substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.” [Note 12] He told the jury that the prosecutor bore the burden of proving, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant was criminally responsible
at the time of the shootings. The judge explained that if the jury found the defendant not guilty, by reason of insanity, of causing the death of one of the victims, they must so find with respect to the deaths of all three victims.
The jury returned verdicts of guilty of murder in the first degree on each of the three indictments, impliedly finding that the defendant was criminally responsible at the time of the shootings. The judge sentenced the defendant, as the law requires, to imprisonment for life on each conviction. He ordered the terms to be served concurrently.
On March 7, 1979, the defendant filed a claim of appeal and a motion for a new trial. In support of his motion, the defendant argued that he was deprived of a fair trial because of certain conversations that had occurred between potential jurors during the jury selection process. He also argued that his convictions were against the weight of the evidence. The motion was heard by another judge of the Superior Court (motion judge), the trial judge having resigned from the Superior Court bench. The motion judge denied the defendant’s motion, and the defendant appealed.
By John P. Muldoon -April 27, 2018
NATICK — The parole application of a man convicted of killing his mother, father, and sister 40 years ago has been opposed by his surviving sibling and current and former prosecutors.
The case was heard by the Massachusetts Parole Board in Natick yesterday.
Now 55, Alfred Brown was given life without parole in 1978 for the murders in the family home on Mansion Drive, Topsfield, when he was just 15 years old.
Although sentenced to life without parole, Brown became eligible when the Supreme Judicial Court ruled in 2013 those sentences for juveniles are unconstitutional.
In a statement issued before the hearing, the Essex County District Attorney’s office said it would oppose Brown’s release.
“Assistant District Attorney Kim Faitella will present the Commonwealth’s opposition to Mr. Brown’s parole,” the statement said.
“In my opinion, if you let him out, he will kill again,” retired prosecutor John Doherty told the hearing.
Sister Beth, then 21, who avoided the slaughter because she was living in Hawaii at the time, also opposed Brown’s release.
“Although she has since changed her name and is now living in hiding, a prosecutor read a letter from her at the hearing,” WHDH Channel 7 news reported.
“I don’t feel that 40 years is sufficient punishment for what he did. He was adamant they deserved what they got,” she was quoted as writing.
The D.A.’s office said on the evening of Friday, Jan. 27, 1978, Brown, “shot and killed his mother, his 20-year old sister, and his father with the .22-caliber rifle that his parents gave him for Christmas. He then fled his Topsfield home in his father’s car.”
NBC 10 Boston quoted Brown as saying: “I murdered three members of my own family for essentially senseless reasons.”
“I raised the rifle, and he saw the rifle, and he said ‘no’ to me,” Brown recalled of his father. “I shot at him at least twice,” the report said.
“I think it would have been too personal to kill my family with a knife. Truthfully, I think the gun made it easier,” WHDH quoted Brown as saying.
He committed the murders because he was afraid a failing grade in math would get him into trouble at home.
According to a 1998 recount of the murders, the Brown family had returned to America from Japan after Wilfred lost his job in Tokyo. “The move was jarring for the entire family,” the report said.
Both daughters went away to college over their father’s strong objections, but Dorina tried to commit suicide in her freshman year and returned home, the account said.
After Brown killed his family, he left in his father’s car.
However, he caught the attention of an off-duty police officer, who chased him until he crashed into a tree.
In the police station, cops tried to contact his family until Brown told them not to bother.
Shortly afterwards, the bodies were found.
On February 2, 1979, a jury returned guilty verdicts of first-degree murder on each of the three charges.
The judge sentenced Brown to life without the possibility of parole on each conviction, but ordered the terms to be served concurrently.
Brown told the parole board he has been fighting mental health issues all his life.
The hearing was also told that while Brown attacked a guard in prison and had other angry outbursts, but that he has been on good behavior for the last 20 years.
A decision is expected by the parole board in a few weeks.
- By Julie Manganis Staff Writer
- Apr 2, 2019
TOPSFIELD — Alfred Brown, one of the first juveniles to be tried as an adult for murder in Massachusetts after he killed his parents and sister in 1978, has been denied parole.
Brown, now 55, “is not rehabilitated and, thus, does not merit parole at this time,” the Parole Board wrote in a decision released this week.
The board also ordered that Brown cannot again seek parole for five years, the maximum “setback” period.
Brown was found guilty in 1979 of three counts of first degree murder for the deaths of his parents, Yoshiko, 49, and Wilfred, 45, and his sister, Dorina, 20, on the afternoon and evening of Jan. 27, 1978, at their Topsfield home.
He was sentenced to three life sentences without parole.
Then, in 2013, after the Supreme Judicial Court concluded that life sentences without parole for those convicted of murder as juveniles were unconstitutional, Brown and dozens of other convicted killers in Massachusetts became eligible for parole hearings.
During his hearing before the board last April, Brown said “I’m a different person now.”
But even as he told the board he accepts responsibility for his actions, he continued to blame a combination of social isolation, bullying over his Japanese-American heritage and a diet of spy and true crime novels for his decision to kill his family that day and evening.
He also acknowledged that he was angry at his father’s “authoritarian” parenting style and knew that he would be angry to discover that Brown had failed geometry.
Brown used a .22-caliber rifle he had been given as a Christmas gift a few weeks earlier to shoot his mother in the head. As his sister tried to flee, he shot her twice in the back, twice in the chest and once in the head.
His father arrived home a little later and Brown confronted him in the garage, shooting him six times, three of those shots to the head.
Police would find a note on the refrigerator saying “I wish to die,” with his name. He then attempted to flee, only to be stopped on a drunken driving charge.
At the Topsfield police station, Brown stalled as officers tried to get him to call his parents, until he admitted he couldn’t because he had shot them.
Only one sister, who was attending college in Hawaii, survived. She adamantly opposed parole for Brown.
The two became estranged after, she told the board in a letter, Brown suggested that he’d done both of them a favor by killing their parents. She expressed grave fear of her brother, saying that after decades without contact, he had tried again to contact her, something she believes was motivated only by his interest in seeking parole.
The Essex County District Attorney’s office opposed parole at the hearing. John Doherty, the long-retired prosecutor on the case, said the case was like nothing he’d seen in four years of active duty and decades as a federal prosecutor.
“Alfred Brown scares me,” Doherty told the board last year. “My opinion is if you let him out, he will kill again.”
The board also raised concerns both at the hearing and in its decision.
While Brown has completed a college degree in prison, he did not begin taking part in rehabilitation programs until 2013. He has also remained compliant with his mental health treatment, the board said.
“Mr. Brown, however, has accrued approximately 20 disciplinary infractions during his incarceration, some of which are a concern to the board,” the decision says.
Brown acknowledged during the hearing that he made it a point to “fight back” to anyone he perceived as “disrespectful,” including another inmate or staff.
“The board is of the opinion that Alfred Brown has not demonstrated a level of rehabilitative progress that would make release compatible with the welfare of society,” the board wrote. “Mr. Brown shot and killed his mother, father and sister in the family home. The board is concerned regarding the level of violence exhibited during the commission of the … offense. A longer period of positive adjustment and program involvement is needed.”