Jury in Rape Trial Votes Conviction

Guilty Findings by Island Jury Follow Two Hours of Deliberation at Close Of Two-Day Trial in Edgartown

By JULIA WELLS

A 19-year-old Vineyard man was sentenced to five years in state prison yesterday after he was convicted of raping a 15-year-old girl in a late-night incident in Oak Bluffs two years ago.

Matthew P. Tucci was convicted of statutory rape by a superior court jury on Wednesday afternoon following a two-day trial at the Edgartown courthouse.

The jury of eight women and four men returned guilty verdicts after about two hours of deliberation. Mr. Tucci was also convicted of procuring alcohol for a minor.

The Hon. Barbara J. Rouse sentenced Mr. Tucci to serve a full five years at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction, after listening to a tearful statement from the victim, a Vineyard resident who is now 17.

"My life has changed forever. This has changed my life in how I feel at school and at home. I have had a hard time trusting anyone - mostly men - they broke my trust," the victim said, reading her statement just before Mr. Tucci was sentenced yesterday morning.

A co-defendant in the case will be prosecuted separately in a later court sitting.

Mr. Tucci is currently serving a 23-month sentence in the Edgartown House of Correction for a breaking and entering conviction. His attorney argued unsuccessfully yesterday for a lighter sentence on the rape conviction, and also urged the judge to allow Mr. Tucci to serve his time at the Vineyard jail.

"He is still a teenager. At this time in his life it would be inappropriate to throw him to the wolves, to put him in state prison," said Edward F.X. Lynch, a partner with Manning & Lynch in Barnstable.

Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Lisa F. Edmonds, who prosecuted the case, recommended a sentence of seven years in state prison.

For the alcohol procurement conviction, Mr. Tucci was sentenced to two years of probation and counseling, following time served for the rape conviction. Judge Rouse is an associate justice of the superior court who is presiding over the spring sitting of Dukes County Superior Court.

Key witnesses in the trial included the victim's father and a police sergeant from Rutland, Vt., who both received confessions from Mr. Tucci on separate occasions following the incident. The victim also took the stand for nearly three hours at the outset of the trial and delivered testimony about the incident that was at times graphic and uncomfortable. Another teenaged girl, who was a foster child who lived with the victim's family at the time of the incident, delivered a different version of the incident. She was the sole witness for the defense.

The incident took place in June 2000. The victim testified that she and her foster sister took off their shoes, sneaked out of the house late at night and called a cab to take them to the co-defendant's house in Oak Bluffs. The victim said she did not know either of the boys, who were friends with her foster sister. The four teenagers spent some time in a parked car drinking beer and rum and Coke. Later the victim said the group walked to an unfinished house nearby, where the two boys took her upstairs and took turns raping her.

Charges were filed against Mr. Tucci and the co-defendant about three months later, after the girl had told her father about the incident. The father testified during the trial that he went to see Mr. Tucci, who admitted to some version of the incident. The state police were notified and an investigation followed. Last fall the attorneys for the co-defendants filed successful motions to separate the case.

There was no physical evidence in the case.

But Mr. Tucci's admissions about the incident played a key role during the trial, because under Massachusetts law consent is not a factor in cases of statutory rape (the formal term is rape of a child under the age of 16).

In February of last year, Mr. Tucci was picked up by police in Rutland during a drug sweep, and police there had learned that there was an arrest warrant outstanding for him in Massachusetts.

Det. Sgt. Kevin Stevens testified that Mr. Tucci casually confessed about the incident on the Vineyard, after he had been taken into custody in Vermont. The confession took place after Mr. Tucci had asked for a cigarette and was taken outside to smoke.

"He said he had sex with the girl, but it was consensual. He said it was her parents who were having him arrested, and that was allowed under Massachusetts law," Mr. Stevens said.

At the outset of the trial Mr. Lynch moved to have Mr. Stevens's testimony excluded, but the judge allowed it after finding that the statement was not made as a result of any formal interrogation.

In closing arguments Mr. Lynch told the jury that the victim was not credible.

"Her testimony is nothing more than a story made up by a 15-year-old. . . . Her version of the facts is not believable and not reliable," Mr. Lynch said.

But the assistant district attorney told the jury that the victim was guilty of nothing beyond poor judgment. "She used really poor judgment, she did a really, really stupid thing. She did something a lot of kids do at that age - she snuck out of the house," Ms. Edmonds said. "But that does not justify, minimize or detract from what Mr. Tucci and [the co-defendant] did," she added.

In the end the jury returned guilty indictments against Mr. Tucci on both charges. On the charge of rape, the jury found that he was both a principal and a joint venturer – a term used in criminal cases that involve two defendants. On the charge of procuring alcohol for a minor, the jury found that Mr. Tucci was a joint venturer.

Mr. Lynch said he will appeal. Ms. Edmonds called the verdict sound.

"It was a just verdict and the jury was obviously very thoughtful in their deliberation - they delivered a verdict based on the facts and the evidence," she said.