BOSTON—Cool damp air blew through an open window in Room 906 of Suffolk Superior Courthouse, quietly clanking the ball-chain hanging from a curtain against the wall. More chilling though was the case lawyers were questioning prospective jurors to try.
This is the trial of a murdered 2-year-old girl, found by a woman walking her dog on the shore of Boston’s Deer Island two years ago. The girl’s identity and her death were a mystery and she became known as “Baby Doe” while police plastered her computer-generated image across the city, which then spread around the world. On a billboard, Baby Doe’s soft brown eyes pleaded to commuters, “Remember me?”
Three months later, Baby Doe was identified as Bella Bond and her mother’s boyfriend, Michael McCarthy, was arrested for murdering her, supposedly claiming later that he believed the girl was possessed.
“If you found out [the defendant] was interested in demons or Satan would that make him unworthy of your belief,” asked defense attorney Jonathan Shapiro. Could you believe the mother’s testimony, if she “waited several months to report the death,” asked assistant district attorney, David Deakin. “Would they expect scientific evidence to resolve all outstanding issues?” he asked again.
McCarthy, 37, is being tried in the same courtroom where just over four weeks ago, Aaron Hernandez, was acquitted of a double homicide, only to kill himself in his prison days later.
Prosecutors allege Bella’s body was first stored in a refrigerator for weeks before it was thrown into the water from a South Boston beach and washed ashore. The state also revealed in court documents, that someone witnessed Bella’s caregivers lock her in the closet, claiming she was a demon.
Suffolk County prosecutors will face similar challenges as they did with Hernandez because their case appears to rest primarily on a single witness who was granted a deal for their testimony. In Hernandez’s case, that witness was Alexander Bradley, who Hernandez’s attorney claimed incriminated Hernandez to save himself.
Bella Bond’s murder trial may also be aptly compared to the first client that made Baez, famous: Casey Anthony. Her daughter, 2-year-old Caylee, was found wrapped in blanket and a trash bag in the Florida woods. Baez got Anthony off after he challenged the prosecution’s story about how the child died. In Bella’s case, the cause of death is unclear, too. The medical examiner ruled it was “homicidal violence, type undetermined.”
In this case, the primary witness is Bella’s mother, Rachelle Bond, and she may be even more problematic for the state.
“The Commonwealth’s case is weak because it relies almost entirely on the testimony of Rachelle Bond, who is not a very credible witness,” McCarthy’s attorney, Jonathan Shapiro wrote in an email. “Her testimony that she saw Mr. McCarthy kill her 2 year old child and made no effort to call 911 or otherwise get help, and that she was unable to escape from his clutches for four months because he held her as a hostage is unbelievable.”
Shapiro says, her history of addiction, crime, that the parental rights of her two other children were revoked, and that the Department of Children and Families had been called due to her care of Bella twice before, “makes it more likely that she was responsible for Bella’s death than Mr. McCarthy.”
In February, while dabbing her eyes with a tissue from a Frozen-themed box of tissues, Rachelle Bond plead guilty to accessory to murder after the fact and larceny for continuing to collect Bella’s state benefits after her death. In exchange for her testimony against McCarthy, Bond will be released on time served, after his trial, instead of serving up to seven years.
Bond told police that she watched McCarthy standing over Bella and hitting her in the abdomen until the child went quiet and her face turned gray and swollen. He then told Bond that her daughter had been, “possessed by demons” and it was, “her time to die.”
But McCarthy, allegedly told police that he didn’t know Bella was dead. He thought child protection services had taken her, like they had Bond’s two other children.
In the plea hearing, Bond’s attorney, Janice Bassil, argued that her client was a “victim.” Bond claimed that McCarthy had kept her captive by shooting heroin into her neck, so she wouldn’t report Bella’s death, and exasperating her “raging drug habit,” that she had previously worked to control so she could care for her child. Bassil says her client “lives to see Michael McCarthy convicted.”
Outside the courtroom, Bassil faced a heated scrum of reporters, questioning her characterization of Bond as a victim.
“She is a woman who struggled for a great many years in her life, with homelessness, with mental health issues, with drug issues. She really did her very best to provide a decent place to live and a decent life for this child, and she had succeeded. The problem was this person came into her life, and quite frankly wouldn’t leave,” said Bassil, referring to McCarthy. “I think losing a child is one of the worst experiences anyone would have to survive and it’s very hard for her.”
“She also did nothing after the fact,” added a reporter.
“It’s very easy for you to say she did nothing after the fact,” Bassil shot back. “Why don’t you live under a bridge for a week?”
“But she wouldn’t tell anybody that her daughter was in a trash bag in Boston Harbor? Ever? Even when she was alone?” asked another reporter.
“Why don’t you walk in her shoes for a week and see how well you do?” Bassil replied.
Bond left the house on multiple occasions without McCarthy before telling a friend her daughter was dead, according to both the prosecution and the defense. In a recent pretrial hearing, Judge Janet Sanders ruled that Rachelle Bond could testify that she believed McCarthy had supernatural powers that he could use to harm her.
It is unclear if and how McCarthy, with his near-translucent skin and hooded eyes, and the thin pouting lips, was able to cast that impression on Bond. Since he first appeared in a Boston courtroom, he cut his long dark blonde hair into a trendy coif. His stare is less vacant; at one point, his father and brother appeared to smile at him from the back of the courtroom; and he was engaged with his defense team, huddling with them as they discussed each potential juror.
Previous reports say that he and Rachelle Bond met on Boston’s infamous, “Methadone Mile,” on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Southampton Street, where all things opioids meet: treatment facilities, dealers, and users. He spoke frequently about demons, and told his therapy group about a dream he once had about Bella, according to The Boston Globe.
Like Rachelle Bond, McCarthy has a lengthy rap sheet of drug related offenses.
Though Shapiro is not sure how much evidence of this will be allowed to go before the jury, he said, “I expect that there will be evidence that Rachelle Bond was the one who was obsessed with demons and who in fact believed that Bella was inhabited by a demon.”
Outside the courthouse, Joseph Amoroso, Bella’s biological father, who is expected to testify for the prosecution, told The Daily Beast that Bond did not mention demonology to him, but she mentioned it to his mother once, the day she was arrested.
Amoroso met Rachelle while they were both homeless and living in tents pitched in Boston’s Financial District, during the Occupy Boston movement. Though he moved to Florida and never met Bella, he had returned to Boston and had been trying to see her, not knowing it was too late. He and his mother, Patricia Quinn, who is also listed as a potential witness, were with Bond in the hours before she was arrested, though he told The Daily Beast, he didn’t know Bella was dead yet.
That morning, Amoroso said Bond pulled Quinn aside and told her, “I’ve had a demon with me my whole life and I think I’m possessed, but now I’m free.”
Though Amoroso wants to see McCarthy convicted, he doesn’t think Bond is trustworthy either.
“She is lying through her teeth,” he said. “She’s not telling the whole truth. I believe she had a lot more to do with the whole incident than what she’s saying. It’s so sick. I mean, how do you put your kid in the refrigerator?”
Amoroso said he is nervous about testifying, in case he casts doubt on Bond’s credibility.
“I have to be careful with what I say up on stand, because if I say the wrong thing then it could turn the whole thing around and make the jury, believe ‘OK, she probably did it and is throwing him under the bus, and saying he did it,’ and he is going to get away with murder.”
Though he added, he understood that he would have to tell the truth under oath.