Prosecutor reflects on high-profile Entwistle conviction
On June 25, when a jury foreman twice pronounced “guilty,” convicting Neil Entwistle of murdering his wife and daughter, prosecutor Michael Fabbri showed no elation.
Fabbri didn't celebrate. He didn't go out and toast the verdict with others from the Middlesex County District Attorney's Office.
Instead, the veteran assistant district attorney said what he felt was relief.
“It's a lose-lose situation,” Fabbri said. “Regardless of the verdict, it is not a moment to celebrate. Both families lost someone.”
After a four-week trial in Middlesex Superior Court, Entwistle, 29, a British national, was convicted of murdering wife Rachel, 27, and daughter, Lillian Rose, 9 months old, two years ago in Hopkinton.
Fabbri has prosecuted about 20 murder cases since his first in 1995. The Entwistle case, by far, had the highest profile and was a long way from his first criminal trial -- a drunken driving case in 1985 for which he had 15 minutes to prepare.
The murders of Rachel and Lillian Rose Entwistle in their upscale suburban neighborhood attracted local, national and international attention.
Every tiny detail and every mundane step in the legal process -- even before Entwistle's arrest in February 2006 through his conviction last month -- was featured in newspapers and broadcast news reports around the country.
“I never considered the media to be a hindrance or a bother,” said Fabbri, 53, who had never had to deal with so intense a media glare and the scrutiny that goes with it.
“I certainly will say it's the first case that had this much media attention,” he said. “The prospects were -- I don't want to say frightening, but it was unsettling.''
Fabbri was part of the case from the start.
On Jan. 22, 2006, he was at home in Ashland, watching football on television, when his pager went off. Police had found the bodies of Rachel and Lillian Rose in the house at 6 Cubs Path in Hopkinton.
Despite suggestions at trial by defense attorney Elliot Weinstein, Entwistle was not a suspect when the bodies were first discovered, Fabbri said.
The goal that first night, he said, was to find Neil Entwistle. No one knew where he was, or if he, too, had been hurt, Fabbri said.
“We tried to treat it as any other case. We followed the evidence,” said the prosecutor, a 1972 graduate of Framingham South High School and a 1980 Framingham State College graduate.
“We're in the business of getting information. It really is dictated by what comes up during the investigation. We have to remain flexible.”
That information pointed to Neil Entwistle, who had fled to England after the murders. He told authorities he found his wife and baby dead, and had no idea who committed the murders.
As a prosecutor, Fabbri said he would not have had Entwistle arrested if he hadn't been 100 percent sure of his guilt.
“We have always taken the tack, here in Middlesex County, that you don't seek an indictment, even at that early stage, unless you feel you can prove there was no reasonable doubt,” said Fabbri. “Our job is not to only get a conviction, but to be fair. ... We don't have to prove no one else in the world had an opportunity to commit the crime. We have to prove Neil Entwistle was the one who committed the crime.”
Once the case entered the legal system, he said, it followed the same path as any other murder trial, with many delays and legal maneuvering on both sides.
Like a well-trained athlete, Fabbri entered his own prosecutorial zone.
Before the trial started June 2, he spent two to three months concentrating on the case. Other assistant DAs picked up his duties as the Framingham office's chief.
He, along with fellow prosecutors Dan Bennett and Meghan O'Neill, spent the time going over prospective defenses. Bennett, Fabbri said, was essential because of his experience as a defense lawyer.
“Like other cases, I tried to evaluate every potential defense,” Fabbri said. “Reasonable doubt is a viable defense, the defense can just say, ‘Prove it.’
“They could have used the ‘other-perpetrator’ theory,” he said.
That would have included pointing the finger at Rachel's stepfather, Joe Matterazzo, who owned the gun used in the killings and, according to testimony, was in the area that day.
Early in the trial, Weinstein and fellow defense lawyer Stephanie Page, questioned witnesses about Rachel's state of mind, laying the groundwork for the argument that she killed herself and her daughter as a murder-suicide.
Also, early in the trial, they also asked witnesses what kind of relationship Joe Matterazzo had with Rachel, but Fabbri presented several witnesses who testified to Matterazzo's whereabouts on Jan. 20, 2006, the day of the murders. They also testified about the loving relationship the pair had.
The murder-suicide theory was not a surprise, but the prosecution had to anticipate other theories as well, Fabbri said.
“You want to keep an open mind,” he said. “It may look like it's going one way, and then they go another way. Until you rest the case, things can take a turn.”
During the trial, the Woburn courtroom was filled with Rachel's family and friends, including her mother, Priscilla Matterazzo.
Fabbri had to be tuned in to their feelings, warning them about the tactics the defense might use in making its case. Balancing their emotional needs with prosecutorial aims was a tricky balancing act, he said.
“We tried, as best as possible, to keep them up to date on different defense possibilities,” he said. “To get hit with something like that (suicide theory) mid-trial, it's going to be emotional.”
The last day and a half, when the jury was deliberating, seemed the longest, Fabbri said.
“You try not to” think about the verdict, he said. “You try to keep yourself occupied. I had hundreds, maybe thousands of e-mails I had to respond to.”
Following the verdict, Fabbri went home and puttered around the house. He picked up things his sons had left on the floor and he cleaned the yard.
“I was picking up some twigs and leaves, and that's when I noticed the grass was long,” he said. “Our lawnmower was broken, so I was tinkering with that. My wife was laughing at me, because I was still in that mode that I felt like I had to do something. It's a relief to have that behind us.”
Once Entwistle was sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole, Fabbri took two weeks off from work to recharge.
Now, nearly a month after the verdict, Fabbri said he still does not know why Entwistle murdered his wife and daughter.
“Sometimes you just don't know why,” he said. “I say this because, why do these homicides, or these serious crimes, happen? No ‘why’ would really explain this. There is no why.”
Norman Miller can be reached at 508-626-3823 or firstname.lastname@example.org.