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(Globe Staff Photo / Lane Turner)

(Globe Staff Photo / Evan Richman)
Rosemary C. Scapicchio’s high-stakes strategy paid off last week during a murder retrial (L) in Suffolk Superior Court. At home, the mother of three helped her son after a bath.

She's on a roll

Scapicchio wins acquittals, appeals as she copes with spouse's duty in Iraq

Rosemary C. Scapicchio's defense of John F. Monteiro lasted less than a minute last week. To rebut a witness who said a murder suspect had crooked teeth, she had Monteiro walk in front of the jury, mouth open, baring a normal-looking set of teeth.

Not a word was spoken. Then she rested.

It was a high-stakes strategy for Scapicchio, who has become one of the area's hottest defense lawyers in the past 18 months. She has won acquittals in two murder cases, persuaded the US Supreme Court to loosen federal sentencing guidelines, and freed Shawn Drumgold from prison 14 years after his wrongful conviction in a notorious murder case.

In court, her stock in trade is undermining police investigations. She wastes few words and little time, moving up and down the jury box and delivering brusque, rapid-fire questions aimed at planting doubt in jurors' minds. The head-on attacks on law enforcement conduct angers police and prosecutors, but earns plaudits from other defense lawyers and often wins acquittals.

''What a couple of years she's had," remarked Stephanie Page, senior trial counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services. ''She has always taken her cases seriously, worked hard, and is fearless, not afraid to bring difficult issues to court."

But it has not been without stress.

Scapicchio, a 40-year-old graduate of Suffolk University law school, balances the life of a high-profile lawyer with being the mother of three children, ages 3, 6, and 10. Her husband, Ralph W., is in Iraq, serving a 16-month tour with an Army National Guard unit.

''It's been very stressful," she said.

Before the retrial of Monteiro on murder-robbery charges, Scapicchio was at home, working on her opening statement and tending to her oldest child, who had a virus. ''I was up all night, cleaning up puke," she said.

At the end of each day's testimony, she rushed home.

''My daughter has karate at 5:15, my son has T-ball at 6, and mom has a headache," she said one day as she left court.

To ease the strain, she hired a nanny, whose husband, coincidentally, is also on duty in Iraq.

''Work is one of the things that's kept me going, not thinking about it all the time," Scapicchio said. Communication with her husband has been sporadic. At one stretch, he was unable to send e-mail to his family or telephone for five weeks, she said.

''He's been operating out of forward bases, one of them named 'Danger,' " Scapicchio said. ''I don't know who named it, but, obviously, it wasn't someone with kids."

Scapicchio accepts the onus this has placed on her life: ''He felt it was his duty, and he had to do it," she said. ''He's been so supportive of me and my career, to the point of giving up his job to raise our kids. I have to be supportive of him."

In defending Monteiro, one of two defendants in this retrial, Scapicchio used a strategy that has angered police and prosecutors: attack the police investigation of the shooting death of Geoffrey Douglas, 16, on the MBTA station platform at Fields Corner in Dorchester in November 2001.

She argued that Boston police detectives failed to follow leads and answer obvious questions, because a Boston officer's son was with Douglas, who was brandishing a knife, at the time of the fatal altercation.

In a split decision late Friday, the jury acquitted Monteiro and Aderito A. Barbosa of murder, but convicted them of assault with intent to rob Douglas of a gold chain.

The first trial last fall had ended in a hung jury on the murder and robbery charges, but a conviction on a gun-possession count.

Jon C. Taylor, the lawyer who represented Monteiro at the first trial, observed parts of the retrial and said he was intrigued that Scapicchio challenged the witnesses' identification of Monteiro. That was something he had conceded, instead stressing self-defense.

''Rose is as good as it gets in this city," Taylor said during a break in the retrial. But he said that attacking the witnesses' identification was risky. Ultimately, the jury didn't buy it, deciding that Monteiro was there, trying to rob the victim.

Scapicchio of Weymouth said she has had ''very good luck recently in some very high profile cases." She added later: ''It's all what have you done lately."

Her run started in November 2003. After 12 years of appellate failures, she won freedom for Drumgold when a judge vacated his 1989 murder conviction in the shooting of 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore in Roxbury. Aided by a Boston Globe investigation, Scapicchio unearthed substantial evidence of law enforcement officials' misconduct and slipshod work.

''I call her my angel," said Drumgold, now a construction worker.

A year later, Scapicchio won an acquittal of James Bush, accused of murder in the 2002 shooting of 3-year-old Malik Andrade Percival during an apparent Dorchester home invasion. To persuade jurors that police had the wrong man, she tore into the prosecution case, forcing the lead Boston police investigator, Detective Sergeant Daniel M. Keeler, to admit that he filed a report falsely stating that he videotaped the crime scene and was with a detective, who was not there.

Keeler, a veteran of some 200 homicide cases who is now a detective supervisor, seethes at the episode and stands by his work.

''I think it's sad when someone like Rosemary Scapicchio can accuse police of covering up the murder of Malik Percival and not be held accountable," Keeler said of her contention that police concealed information. ''Where's the evidence?"

''The jury said 'not guilty,' " Scapicchio retorted when told of Keeler's comment. ''How's that for evidence?"

In January, Scapicchio succeeded at a higher level: The US Supreme Court, ruling on a case she had argued last October, struck down federal sentencing guidelines that required judges to lengthen sentences based on facts not presented to juries.

She was nervous at her first appearance before the high court. ''At first, I thought, I can't believe I'm here," she recalled.

It didn't help, she said, when Acting Solicitor General Paul D. Clement, arguing for the government, ''stood up without a single piece of paper or notes and within a minute was quoting a footnote from one of Justice [Antonin] Scalia's cases."

She said she turned to Jeffrey T. Green, a Washington lawyer who assisted her, and said:, ''Oh, my God, I'm way out of my league."

Green said Scapicchio was composed. ''She did great for a rookie," Green said, noting that Scapicchio's Boston accent appeared to amuse two justices.

The accent comes by way of the Faneuil public housing development in Brighton, where she grew up, the fourth of six children of John and Betty Curran. Her late father was disabled, an alcoholic, she said. Her mother, who lives in Middleborough, worked at a travel agency.

A graduate of Mount Saint Joseph Academy and Suffolk University -- where she met her husband, the brother of Councilor Paul Scapicchio -- Rosemary Scapicchio worked for defense lawyer Frank Kelleher while in law school and ''got hooked immediately."

Scapicchio knows defense lawyers are not widely held in high esteem.

''The public thinks we represent the scum of the earth," she said. ''But what we do is force the government to prove its case and adhere to all the tenets of the Constitution."

''I've had clients who were guilty, mostly in drug-related cases," Scapicchio said. ''But I haven't defended anybody accused of a homicide who I believed actually did it."

That includes Dennis M. Daye, once called by a veteran prosecutor ''probably the most dangerous psychopath I have ever prosecuted" after one of Daye's murder convictions. Scapicchio is representing Daye, Richard Costa, and Michael DeNictolis in their fourth appeal of convictions 18 years ago in the 1985 murder-robbery of Robert and Patricia Paglia in their Lynnfield home.

All are serving two consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole. Scapicchio is seeking a trial in Essex County based on new scientific evidence.

Daye, a reputed mob enforcer who has spent most of his life in prison, has been convicted in two other murders and was the prime suspect in another killing, but escaped that prosecution. He had one conviction overturned when witnesses recanted.

Asked if Daye is a murderer, Scapicchio, who did not represent him in the earlier cases, said: ''I don't know that he is. . . . I can't make those judgments, who's a good guy; who's a bad guy."

''This is not necessarily about Dennis Daye or Rick Costa," she said.

''It's about the system. It has to work the same for them as it does for Shawn Drumgold."

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