QUANTICO, Virginia ― The murder trial for a Marine reservist charged with killing a Boston college student ended Wednesday with both prosecution and defense lawyers arguing over forensic evidence and witness reliability.
Marine Reservist Lance Cpl. Samuel London was accused of murdering Emerson College student Daniel Hollis. Hollis was injured in a drunken fight on Sept. 28, 2019, and died from his injuries days later.
In addition to the murder charge, London faces charges of manslaughter, assault consummated by battery and wrongful use of a controlled substance related to alleged cocaine use several hours before the fight.
The jurors are now set to deliberate what they heard during the seven-day trial.
Who caused the fight and what led to the fall were what was in dispute.
Hollis was 19-year-old Emerson College lacrosse goalie, described as “tall” and “lanky.”
Both the prosecution and the defense agree that London, along with two friends Jacob Ryles and Robert Pankov, got into a fight with some of Hollis’ friends from his lacrosse team.
At some point during the 18-second fight, Hollis fell onto the bricks outside the Boston apartment he and his friends had been partying at.
In his closing argument lead prosecutor Capt. Tim Dean meticulously went over the charges in the case, arguing that London was guilty of murder and of using cocaine.
He claimed that London instigated the fight instead of walking away when things between the group got heated.
He said London walked into the group with his chest puffed out and eventually threw a punch at one of the lacrosse players, Austin DiPietro, unprovoked.
During the fight London continued to attack the lacrosse players, eventually “unloading” on Hollis.
“The evidence shows that Dan was not even a combatant … he was not squaring up,” Dean said. “If Dan was doing anything he was attempting to intervene and did nothing but present his face as a target.”
Dean went on to say the jury could “infer” London’s intent to severely hurt Hollis by his actions leading up to the fight and the force with which he hit the lacrosse player.
Proven intent to do great bodily harm is needed to be convicted of the murder charge.
Lead defense lawyer Maj. Albert Evans argued that witness testimony presented in the case indicated that DiPietro and fellow lacrosse player Skyler Celotto instigated the fight by threating to “kill” London and his friends shortly before the fight broke out.
“I will f*cking kill you,” were Celotto’s words, Evans claimed.
“You want to talk about intent. The Emerson Lacrosse players had intent that night. You don’t have to infer, they said what their intent was.”
Two lacrosse players testified that they had held Celotto back just before the fight broke out, with one saying he had to use most of his strength to keep Celotto out of the fight, Evans said in his closing argument.
Dean, citing Ryles’ testimony, alleged that Celotto was only being held back for show as a sign of bravado.
In addition to alleging that the lacrosse players started the fight, Evans argued that there was no evidence that Hollis was ever punched.
No witness testified in the trial that they saw London throw the blow that caused Hollis to fall.
Dean said the obvious swelling seen in videos of London’s hand shortly after the fight clearly showed London hit someone hard.
Evans claims the swelling came from London punching Celotto after the Marine escaped a chokehold from the lacrosse players.
He added that no one saw the punch because they were all actively engaged in a fight and had to focus on protecting their front.
He noted that several lacrosse players testified they saw London “within range” of Hollis shortly before Hollis fell.
Multiple lacrosse players also testified that they heard a loud punch and looked over to see Hollis bleeding on the bricks and London standing nearby.
“It may be frustrating,” Dean said about the lack of eyewitnesses to the alleged punch, but added that you do not have to see something happen to know it happened.
Evans pointed to the testimony of Robert Pankov, who is currently a sergeant in the Army, to refute the claims of the lacrosse players.
From Pankov’s point of view three or four lacrosse players had surrounded London “like vultures” and were throwing punches at the Marine as he had his sweatshirt pulled over his head, Evans said in his closing arguments.
Dean gave two possible explanations to Pankov’s testimony.
The first that Pankov was saying whatever he could on the stand to “protect his boy.”
The second explanation Dean presented to the jury suggested that what Pankov saw was a direct reaction to London knocking out Hollis.
“If they put hands on (London)… it’s because he already laid out Dan Hollis,” Dean said.
Beyond debating which eyewitness testimony to trust, Dean and Evans argued over what the forensic evidence showed.
Evans, citing two doctors who testified in the case, said there was no physical evidence that Hollis was ever punched.
He said the little bruising at the top of Hollis’ head came from the emergency craniotomy that saw doctors remove parts of Hollis’ skull to make room for his swelling brain.
Forensic pathologist Priya Banerjee testified for the defense that Hollis had no physical signs of being punched.
William Gormley, the doctor who oversaw the surgery and a prosecution witness, said the bruising on the top of the forehead possibly came from a punch, but almost certainly did not come from the surgery.
Gormley testified that he has performed between 5,000 and 6,000 craniotomies in his career but has never seen it result in bruising at the top of the head.
Evans noted that just because something is possible, does not prove that it happened beyond a reasonable doubt.
The lawyer went on to list multiple reasons Hollis might have fallen that night, including drunken clumsiness by Hollis and an accident shove or hit from a lacrosse player.
A few bumps of white stuff
Neither lawyer spent much time arguing over London’s alleged use of cocaine, both pointing out that at the end of the day, London was on trial for murder.
One of London’s friends, Matt French, did testify that he brought cocaine to a party London was at before he went out to the bars, both attorneys agreed.
Evans’ pointed out that French had never testified under oath that he used cocaine with London.
Dean, alleged that a previous sworn statement from French said that he used the cocaine with London.
A series of choices
Dean said the defense’s theories on what might have happened to Hollis and who started the fight do “not stand even the slightest of scrutiny.”
London “made a series of choices. He chose to use cocaine… he chose to escalate (the fight) … he chose to zero in on Dan and unload,” Dean added.
Evans said that everyone involved in that fight bared some responsibility for the tragedy that occurred that night.
But instead of accepting their own guilt the lacrosse players chose to turn London into a “bogyman” who singlehandedly caused the fight and Hollis’ death.
“They lost a friend, that’s tragic … and it colors their memory of that night,” Evans said of the lacrosse players.
The maximum charge London faces is murder with intent to kill or inflict great bodily harm, two counts of assault consummated by a batter and one count of wrongful use of a controlled substance.
If the jurors believe London caused Hollis’ death but that he was sufficiently provoked they may acquit him of the murder charge but convict him of a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter.
If the jurors hold London responsible for Hollis’ death, do not believe he was sufficiently provoked but believe he attacked Hollis without the intent to do great bodily harm, they may convict him on the lesser included charge of involuntary manslaughter.