Taunton, Massachusetts

From the March 26, 2007 South Coast Today:

TAUNTON – A jury found Charles D. Chieppa, 57, not guilty of second-degree murder for the killing of a suspected burglar in 2004.

Jurors needed just over 3½ hours to return the verdict in a case where all parties say intent was the most crucial issue.

Mr. Chieppa remained impassive as the verdict was read. His family members, who filled up one side of the gallery, hugged each other and pulled out cell phones to share the news after court was dismissed.

The family of the slain burglar, Frank Pereira Jr. reacted in a manner just as emotional. His father, sisters and long-time companion wept at the verdict. As they exited the courtroom, sister Missy Cimbron yelled “you (expletive deleted) murderer” in Mr. Chieppa’s direction. Once outside the courtroom they pleaded with a victim witness advocate for any further legal recourse.

Defense Attorney Kevin Reddington packed up a box of evidence with Mr. Chieppa as the courtroom emptied out. Picking up the weapon Mr. Chieppa shot Mr. Pereira with, a semi-automatic Walther P38 handgun, he said “I’ll hang on to this for now.”

Earlier today witnesses in the case have said Mr. Chieppa awoke at about 4 a.m. June 17, 2004, to the sounds of an intruder in his 134 Ashley Blvd. home. After waking a tenant who rented a second-floor apartment, Mr. Chieppa went to his backyard with a semi-automatic handgun, according to testimony. There, he encountered Mr. Pereira, 24, who had apparently broken into Mr. Chieppa’s basement, according to testimony in the case.

Mr. Pereira was seen fleeing from Mr. Chieppa’s yard before collapsing in the street with a fatal bullet wound, witnesses said.

The intent behind that shooting took center stage in court today, with the prosecution saying it was anger, the defense saying it was fear, and Judge E. Susan Garsh telling jurors that whatever they decided about Mr. Chieppa’s motive would determine whether he faced murder or a lesser charge.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Bill McCauley said the circumstances behind the shooting show Mr. Chieppa’s intent. He pointed out that the defendant fired four rounds, and that the state Medical Examiner’s Officer determined that Mr. Pereira was shot in the back. Of the two shots that hit him, the fatal one entered through his back and exited his chest.

“This was anger, this wasn’t fear. He reacted that night in anger, it wasn’t fearful,” he said.

The prosecutor accused Mr. Chieppa of choosing to “take the law into his own hands,” saying he “decided if there was going to be a problem in his property, he would take care of it.”

Additionally, Mr. Chieppa’s tenant heard him yelling, swearing and asking if Mr. Pereira was trying to break into his house, Mr. McCauley said. However, that witness gave several accounts of the shooting in court last week, prompting Judge Garsh to later say his testimony was damaged.

As he has throughout the trial, defense attorney Kevin J. Reddington told the jury today that his client, a decorated Vietnam veteran, believed he was in mortal danger and that he was protecting himself when he fired on Mr. Pereira.

“When you consider his state of mind, when you consider the circumstances, this was a justifiable homicide by a citizen protecting himself,” he said.


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