Dominatrix acquitted of manslaughter

By Raja Mishra
Globe Staff / January 31, 2006
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Professional dominatrix Barbara Asher was acquitted yesterday of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a New Hampshire man who prosecutors said suffered a fatal heart attack while strapped to a bondage rack in her Quincy condominium.

Prosecutors had argued that Asher, 56, did nothing to help Michael Lord, 53, of North Hampton as he died during the July 2000 session, out of fear that calling authorities would have jeopardized her dominatrix business. The prosecutors said she and a boyfriend chopped up Lord's 275-pound body and dumped the parts in a trash bin behind a Chinese restaurant in Augusta, Maine.

Lord's corpse was never found, which produced a rare legal situation: Prosecutors were forced to try Asher for manslaughter without irrefutable proof that a man had died, his body.

''No body. No blood. No DNA. No evidence," Asher's lawyer Stephanie Page said in her closing argument Friday.

The Norfolk Superior Court jury deliberated for eight hours over two days before finding Asher not guilty of involuntary manslaughter and dismemberment.

Page said in an interview yesterday that the lengthy investigation and trial had been an ordeal for Asher. ''She is still in shock. This has been a terrible 5 1/2 years for her," Page said.

Asher's former boyfriend, Miguel S. Ferrer, faced charges as an accessory but fled the country several years ago, returning to his native Argentina, prosecutors said.

Lord's secret life of bondage stunned his family when the case became public in July 2000. Family members expressed disappointment with the verdict yesterday.

''She should have been guilty," said Lord's mother, Audrey H. Lord, 81, reached by phone at her home in Jonesboro, Texas. ''I think that everyone is kind of liberal and tree-huggers up there in Massachusetts. You don't get justice there."

The Norfolk district attorney's office, which prosecuted the case, had won a conviction in a similar case, a 2002 murder trial in which no body was found, the first such case in state history. Yesterday, officials defended their decision to prosecute Asher.

''We knew the legal obstacles were even more daunting and very different from our first trial without a body, but that didn't mean these gruesome allegations should go unchallenged," read a statement released by the office. ''Every family needs to know that if they lose a loved one, no alleged attempt to cover up that crime and destroy evidence is going to stop us from trying to bring a case to justice as the law allows."

The prosecution's case -- and the narrative about the fatal bondage session presented in court -- rested on an alleged confession by Asher.

Several police investigators testified that Asher had admitted to watching Lord die on the bondage rack without calling for medical help and then dismembering his body the next day with Ferrer's help. But the confession was not recorded, and investigators could not produce any notes documenting the confession. Investigators said Asher had asked that tape recorders be shut off before she admitted to the crime.

Prosecutor Robert Nelson, in his closing argument Friday, donned a leather mask and simulated Lord's alleged flailing death, telling jurors, ''She did nothing, nothing for five minutes."

Then, he quietly hung his head forward, apparently in an attempt to simulate Lord's death, drawing a rebuke from Superior Court Judge Charles Grabau.

Without physical evidence to back up Asher's alleged confession, the prosecution faced an uphill task, said one veteran criminal defense attorney.

''They didn't have any physical evidence to corroborate that what the prosecution said happened actually happened," said attorney Robert A. George of Boston. ''How can the jury determine that the death occurred that way when there's not any physical evidence? That's reasonable doubt."

Page said the alleged confession had been fabricated by police investigators.

''There was a lack of a body because [Lord] was never there" at Asher's condominium, she said.

Lord's son, Timothy, said he was convinced of Asher's guilt but questioned whether police and prosecutors had done enough to establish their case.

''The police got a confession from her and were OK with it and didn't want to follow up with the story," he said. ''Here's a woman who confesses to this horrible crime -- what she did to my father, who we love very much."

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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