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Karen Read trial: How the bland and mundane morphed into the dark and dangerous - The Boston Globe

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But to me, the real fascination is in how the bland and mundane can suddenly morph into the dark and dangerous. For the most part, this is a story of ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary situation. The witnesses are police officers, paramedics, and nurses, whose friendships go back to middle school and high school. Many grew up in Canton and never left. Now, as adults, much of their social network springs from attendance at their children's sporting events, with occasional get-togethers for drinks.

"It's not a noir movie," veteran defense lawyer Jack Cunha said about the alleged crime and the setting in which it allegedly took place. Yet, with help from the blogger Aidan Kearney, who goes by the name "Turtleboy," Read's defense team has developed a plot worthy of that genre. Prosecutors say that after a night of heavy drinking and arguing, Read deliberately backed her SUV into O'Keefe and left him for dead during a blizzard in January 2022. However, Read's defense team claims that O'Keefe, a Boston police officer, was beaten inside the Canton house where Brian Albert, a fellow Boston police officer, was having a party, and that O'Keefe's body was dumped outside on the front lawn.

It's a whopper of a conspiracy theory that ties in nicely to these conspiracy-loving times. "It feeds into a narrative which right now is very strong, that authority is not to be trusted at all," Cunha said in an interview. The defense team is also helped by inconsistencies revealed by witness testimony about what Read allegedly said at the scene. For example, one Canton police officer testified that Read said, "This is all my fault. This is all my fault. I did this." Yet under cross-examination, the officer acknowledged he did not include that statement in his initial report, which he called an "oversight." Some first responders also testified that Read said, "I hit him." But there is also testimony that she asked, "Could I have hit him?"

"The defense is doing a good job," Cunha said. "They are raising questions, all related to law enforcement in general and to specific witnesses." Another problem for the prosecution, he said, is surveillance video from a Canton bar that shows Read receiving a warm, welcoming hug from O'Keefe as they meet up on the night of Jan. 28, 2022. "That loving embrace is not consistent with her being so angry with him that she deliberately hits him and leaves him to die," Cunha said.

Yet, as Dan Conley, a former Suffolk County district attorney, points out, no witness has yet to place O'Keefe inside the house at 34 Fairview Road, where Read's defense team alleges he was beaten. "While it appears as though the defense has scored some points by pointing out inconsistencies and raising questions of credibility in some of the witnesses, one aspect of the prosecution's theory of the case seems to be holding up — that O'Keefe never entered the Albert house," Conley told me via email. "If the jury believes that O'Keefe never entered the house, the defendant's theory that he was beaten inside and thrown out to die doesn't hold up. A lot more evidence to come, so we'll see."

The defense has also suggested that O'Keefe was bitten by Chloe, the family dog. However, on Wednesday, a forensic scientist who specializes in animal DNA testified that there was no canine DNA found on evidence that was taken from the scene and sent out for testing.

Meanwhile, Cunha said that the defense doesn't have to prove the story that someone other than Read killed O'Keefe — "All they have to say is that the story raises a reasonable doubt," he said. That is the crux of the defense strategy, and outside the courtroom it is working beautifully, with people who are following the trial asking each other questions like this:

Why did Brian Albert, the homeowner and retired police officer who is the father of Brian Albert Jr., discard his cellphone and get a new one even though he was told not to? Why did Albert sell his home after O'Keefe was found dead on his lawn? Why was Chloe, the dog, sent away?

Once planted and nurtured by social media, conspiracy theories run deep. And as this trial shows, they can turn an insulated slice of suburbia into something more sinister.

Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her @joan_vennochi.

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