TAUNTON — Superior Court Judge John P. Connor Jr. Monday denied convicted “cult murderer” Carl Drew’s motion for a new trial.
Drew, 41, was convicted in 1981 of the first-degree murder of Karen Marsden, 20, of Fall River, an alleged prostitute. Drew, who was a pimp, and co-defendant Robin Ann Murphy, a prostitute and pimp, were charged in the ritualistic slaying of Marsden.
Connor’s 20-page decision follows an evidentiary hearing he presided over in October and November in Taunton Superior Court. Drew’s lawyer, Michael Cutler of Brookline, sought a new trial based on alleged ineffective assistance of Drew’s trial counsel, John Birknes, new eyewitness accounts of the murder and injustice resulting from cumulative errors.
Murphy, who was convicted of second-degree murder in the Marsden killing in exchange for her testimony against Drew, was paroled last spring. Murphy testified at the evidentiary hearing that her testimony against Drew at the trial was fabricated and molded by former prosecutors and investigators.
But Connor found that Murphy’s testimony was “the most incredulous of all the witnesses” at the hearing.
“She maintains that she has no recall of Feb. 8, 1980,” the day of Karen Marsden’s murder, Connor stated, “that she doesn’t remember what she told the representatives of the District Attorney’s office on April 29 through May 1 of 1980; and that she doesn’t remember testifying at the trial that the defendant killed Marsden.
“The testimony of Murphy’s fellow prostitutes and the police officers who were involved in the Marsden investigation in 1991 reveal Murphy to be a very intelligent, controlling and violent person whose primary interest was taking care of herself,” Connor said. “Twenty-three years in prison have not changed that impression.”
Unlike recanting witnesses Maureen “Sunny” Sparda, Carol Fletcher and Leah Johnson, Connor said, Murphy “appears at the hearing to be in excellent health, in total control and very aware of the circumstance in which she finds herself. She was careful in her testimony not to contradict the story she told the parole board which resulted in her release. I find that her only interest at this hearing is in telling the story that will keep her on the street, and she did not let the truth stand in her way.”
Connor found that Sparda, Fletcher and Johnson were also not credible witnesses, and consequently their testimony at the hearing does not warrant a new trial.
As to Drew’s claim that Birknes was ineffective at the trial, Connor said that when Drew filed a direct appeal after he was found guilty, the court reviewed the trial, including Birknes’ performance, and concluded there was no reason to order a new trial.
Connor also found that the defendant did not prove that there were cumulative errors that resulted in an injustice to Drew.
“I’m deeply disappointed. I still believe completely in (Drew’s) innocence,” Cutler said.
He said he planned to see Drew today and discuss whether to appeal Connor’s decision. Drew can appeal the decision to a single justice of the state Supreme Judicial Court.
“This is a big day for us. We’re very pleased,” said Assistant District Attorney Michael Connelly, head of the appeals unit.
Connelly said there were many serious allegations during the hearing, and Connor is to be commended for taking his time and weighing all the evidence.
“First and foremost, we are extremely pleased that Karen Marsden’s murderer will remain behind bars where he belongs. Judge Connor’s denial of the motion is the latest in a long line of decisions reaffirming the justice of the jury’s verdict against Carl Drew,” Connelly said.
During the 11-day hearing, Sparda testified that former Assistant District Attorney David Waxler threatened her that if she testified for Drew, he would see that Sparda went to jail. Waxler, who conducted Drew’s two-week trial in 1981, denied ever making such a threat.
“We’re also gratified by Judge Connor’s total rejection of the reckless, unfounded accusations against David Waxler and other members of the prosecuting team,” Connelly said. “It was not difficult for us to find many people, including sitting judges, to come forward to testify as to his impeccable reputation.”
A portion of Marsden’s skull and items of her clothing were found in a wooded area of Family Beach in Westport on April 13, 1980. Two other members of the group with which she associated, Doreen Levesque and Barbara Raposa, had been murdered around the same time.
The jury in Drew’s trial deliberated just three hours before finding him guilty. Twenty-four witnesses testified at the evidentiary hearing. Connor found that each of the defendant’s witnesses lacked credibility.
“Judge Connor wholly rejected the witnesses’ accusations of misconduct by members of the District Attorney’s Office and Massachusetts State Police,” District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. said in a press release. “Judge Connor cited Waxler’s reputation for honesty and integrity, which was attested to by five sitting or retired judges, a highly respected member of the Committee of Public Counsel Services, and other members of the local bar.”
Walsh, like Connelly, said Karen Marsden’s murder will remain behind bars.
“I applaud the hard work, under difficult conditions, of assistant district attorneys Kevin Connelly, Steven Gagne and their support staff,” Walsh said.
He added that Connor’s denial of Drew’s fourth motion for a new trial was carefully reasoned.
“No one familiar with the case can entertain the slightest doubt about the justice of Drew’s conviction,” Walsh said.
In addition to a direct appeal of the guilty verdict, Drew filed motions for a new trial in 1981, 1983 and 1992.
Reportedly, Murphy, Marsden and other prostitutes and pimps from the Fall River area attended satanic rituals conducted by Drew. But Connor stated that Marsden went into hiding from Drew after she witnessed him, Murphy and a third person murder Doreen Levesque in a satanic ritual.
E-mail Kathleen Durand at