Suffolk DA Files Motion to Reduce Verdict in 1971 Newbury Street Homicide

The charges against a man who murdered a former staffer for late Mayor Kevin White in 1971 on Newbury Street after a victory party are being reduced under a filing last week by District Attorney Rachael Rollins.

The Integrity Review Bureau of Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins late Friday filed an assented-to motion to reduce to manslaughter the verdict against Arnold King, who has been incarcerated for 49 years on first degree murder.

King, who is Black, was convicted in 1972 of the Oct. 20, 1971 robbery and murder of John Labanara, a rising figure in Mayor Kevin White’s administration. Rollins said the trial occurred as racial tensions roiled Boston, and the NAACP sued the Boston School Committee alleging segregation in the city’s public schools.  During jury selection for the trial, she said prosecutors from the DA’s office used peremptory challenges to strike every prospective Black juror from the jury pool.

Labanara was white.

“The issues being raised in the Arnie King case speak directly to Boston’s documented and painful history on race relations,” said Rollins. “Mr. King stands convicted of a heinous murder. Mr. Labanara had the brightest of futures ahead of him and his loved ones and community still feel his loss five decades later. I can only image how difficult it is for Mr. Labanara’s family to have to relive this horrific crime and loss as a result of the filing of Mr. King’s motion,” District Attorney Rachael Rollins said.

Her office has been in contact with the victim’s family, but the family did not comment on the filing to reduce the charges.

Back in 1972, Suffolk County prosecutors struck all four Black prospective jurors from hearing the case. Then, an all-white jury found King guilty of first degree murder in a cross-racial homicide.  

The DA’s filing states that “John Labanara is, and remains, the victim in this case. Nothing we do today can bring back Mr. Labanara and his family still mourns his loss every day. The cornerstone of this result remains accountability for the tragic death of Mr. Labanara, but is also reflective of our steadfast vigilance to the constitutional principles that apply to all.”

“The uncontested facts of the defendant’s case merits the reduction in the verdict as he has requested in his pleadings filed with the trial court. The prosecutor’s use of peremptory challenges to strike each one of the potential jurors who was Black, the defendant’s acceptance of responsibility for the crime charged, and the length of the sentence he has already served requires the retroactive application of the Soares holding to the defendant’s case in the interests of justice. Based on the totality of factors presented by the case, the Commonwealth assents to the defendant’s request to reduce his verdict and requests that it be reduced to manslaughter.”

DA Rollins said it is crucial that every case prosecuted and verdicts returned are secured constitutionally and ethically, and achieve a just result. She said the filing was not a victory.

“John Labanara was murdered and his family has lived and will continue to live with that awful fact,” she continued. “The man who killed Mr. Labanara, however, did not receive a fair trial as afforded and required by our constitution.  Racism undid this verdict and conviction.  The race-based challenges of every Black juror by the Suffolk County DA’s Office undid this conviction.  Any anger and disappointment should fall squarely at the feet of this office’s decisions in 1972.  Although Mr. King is no longer the 18-year-old who committed murder, Mr. Labanara’s family still grieves and will never see John again. This is not a victory.”

Rollins’ Integrity Review Bureau is the first of its kind in the nation and was launched in 2019.  The IRB goes far beyond the work of the conviction integrity units operated by many other elected prosecutors across the country.  It is responsible for reviewing policies and practices at each stage of a prosecution through four program areas.

Case Integrity reviews sentinel events during a case such as a no bill by the grand jury, a judge granting a motion to suppress evidence, or a directed verdict. Conviction Integrity looks at post-conviction claims of innocence or wrongful convictions based on unconstitutional or unethical actions. Sentencing Integrity examines whether certain sentences have produced unjust results. And the recently announced Law Enforcement Automatic Discovery (LEAD) Database, includes law enforcement witnesses who have a history of misconduct or whose credibility has been challenged by a court or administrative agency.

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