The highest court in Massachusetts has vacated sex trafficking convictions against a Black Muslim man whose court-appointed attorney had a history of posting racist and anti-Muslim vitriol on social media.
Attorney Richard Doyle had a conflict of interest that deprived the defendant of his right to effective assistance of counsel, “a right upon which our entire system of criminal justice depends,” the Supreme Judicial Court wrote in its unanimous decision released Thursday.
“Indigent and facing multiple felony charges, the defendant was appointed counsel who openly posted, on his social media account, his vitriolic hatred of and bigotry against persons of the Muslim faith; his unabashed anti-Muslim rants were matched only by his equal scorn for and racism against Black persons,” the court wrote.
The now-deceased defense attorney’s racism continued even after he took the case, the court said.
The defendant, Anthony Dew, was coincidentally released from prison on parole on Thursday, said his appeals lawyer, Edward Gaffney.
“I’m happy, of course. Our position was that he was denied his constitutional rights, and this decision confirms that our position was correct,” Gaffney said.
It was a unique case.
“This situation was so strange. We could not find a similar case and we could not fit this extreme fact pattern into existing law,” he said.
Dew’s appeal to the high court was supported by the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed a brief with the court on his behalf.
“It’s often hard enough for members of marginalized communities to obtain justice in our criminal legal system,” Legal Director Barbara Dougan said in a statement. “Here, the court refused to minimize the level of religious and racial hatred that the defense attorney displayed – indeed, publicly posted for the world to see.”
The Suffolk district attorney’s office now must decide whether to try the case, dismiss the charges, or negotiate another plea deal.
“The anti-Muslim and racist sentiments expressed by this defense attorney are reprehensible,” Jim Borghesani, a spokesperson for Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden, said in a statement. “While we vigorously pursue convictions in every prosecution we bring forward, we recognize the societal imperative of effective and unbiased representation for all defendants. We are reviewing the underlying case and will determine our future actions based on that review.”
Dew was indicted in March 2015 on 19 charges, including five counts of trafficking a person for sexual servitude and one count of rape.
On one of the first occasions Dew met his defense attorney, he was wearing a prayer cap known as a kufi. Doyle demanded he remove the cap and said, “Don’t come in this room like that ever,” according to the court. At another meeting, the attorney left the room without speaking to Dew upon seeing that he was again wearing a kufi.
Doyle urged Dew to accept a plea deal in the case, and in 2016, he pleaded guilty to all of the charges he faced, except for rape, which was dismissed as part of the deal. He was sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
Dew at the time had no idea that Doyle from at least 2014 through 2017 had made a series of racist posts on social media.
“These posts … included a variety of anti-Muslim slurs and statements calling for violence against and celebrating the death of persons of the Muslim faith, posts mocking Black individuals, and comments, some apparently made at a state court house, seemingly referring to Doyle’s clients as ‘thugs’ and suggesting that Doyle’s nonwhite clients were criminals,” the court’s decision said.
Dew did not become aware of his attorney’s bigoted posts until 2021, the same year Doyle died. Dew filed a motion for a new trial and asked to withdraw his guilty pleas. A lower court judge denied his motion and it went to the high court.