Jury begins deliberations in Luna trial
NASHUA – It’s unusual, defense attorney Anthony Naro told the jury in the William Luna drug-death trail, for John Cavaretta’s dogs to suddenly start barking in the middle of the night – unless they heard something going on in or outside his Pelham home.
So when they stirred and barked sometime around 3:15 or 3:30 a.m. on the morning of June 20, 2017, Cavaretta and his wife, Carol, figured it may be an animal, perhaps a person, outside the house, or maybe even a vehicle pulling into the driveway.
But they never got up and looked, Naro pointed out, as reflected in the couple’s testimony earlier this week in the trial of Luna, the Lowell, Massachusetts man charged with selling the dose of fentanyl on which Cavaretta’s grandson, Nicholas Wells, overdosed and died later that morning.
The couple “had no reason to make that up,” Naro said during his nearly one-hour closing argument, during which he sought to poke holes in both the police investigation into Wells’s death, and the prosecution’s argument that, because of the evidence, nobody else but Luna could have sold Wells the dose of fentanyl that killed the 25-year-old construction worker.
The case is now in the hands of the jury, a panel of seven women and five men seated in late November ahead of the start of Monday’s testimony.
Luna, 45, who has been incarcerated since Pelham police arrested him late June 20, faces six felony charges, the most serious being sale of a controlled drug-death resulting, which is punishable by up to life in prison.
While police and prosecutors have long been able to charge a suspect with the offense, building a successful case was a complicated and difficult process.
But that changed about four years ago, when then-state Attorney General Joseph Foster pushed to create the legislation that allows law enforcement personnel and prosecutors to add the “death-resulting” component to the statute.
The other charges Luna faces include sale of a controlled drug-acts prohibited, and possession of a controlled drug-subsequent offense; and one count each of possession of cocaine-subsequent offense; possession of fentanyl, amount greater than one gram; and possession of fentanyl, amount less than five grams.
On Thursday, jurors, after receiving their instructions from Judge Jacalyn Colburn, filed out of the courtroom and into their deliberation room shortly after noon. They deliberated about three and a half hours until being dismissed for the day at 4 p.m. They are scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today.
At the outset of his closing argument, Naro, who is defending Luna with attorney Marc Gouthro, revealed to the jury the defense’s rather unorthodox strategy: Admitting that Luna is guilty of three of the six charges.
“Mr. Luna sold drugs to Nick Wells – we’re acknowledging that,” Naro said, referring to the sale of a controlled-drug charge.
The defense also concedes Luna’s guilt on the charge of possession of cocaine, and on the charge of possession of fentanyl with intent to distribute-amount less than one gram, Naro said.
He emphasized “both were addicts … they suffered from the same disease … Mr. Luna sold drugs to support that disease.
Naro went on to reference the video segments of Luna’s police interview that were shown in court Tuesday.
“Does he look like a lawyer in that video? Or an intern? No, he looks like a skeleton, a shell of himself. That’s what addiction does,” he said in fairly animated fashion.
But the case is not so much about Luna’s alleged motives or his drug-use history as it is about the fact that he was, according to Naro, just one of three or four people with whom Wells at least had drug-related conversations.
Those names surfaced, he said, when police were finally able to dig deep enough into Wells’s two cell phones to find apps containing conversations with people other than Luna.
It’s common, Naro told the jury, for drug addicts to have multiple dealers “because they have to get those drugs” to keep from getting “sick.”
Assistant Attorney General Jesse J. O’Neill, who is prosecuting the case with Assistant Attorney General Heather Cherniske, began his closing argument promising the jury “I’m not going to spend an hour speculating there’s a boogeyman under every rock,” then cut right to the chase.
“The evidence supports, beyond a reasonable doubt, that this defendant sold Nick Wells the fentanyl that caused Nick’s death,” O’Neill said, gesturing toward Luna seated at the defense table.
“What the evidence does not support is (the presence of) a second boogeyman dealer. There is no possibility of another dealer,” he said.
While acknowledging police eventually found conversations Wells had with other people on different apps, “none of those conversations had as much as a whiff” of drug-related context.
“You won’t find any evidence that anyone other than William Luna was selling drugs,” he added.
Slipping on a pair of rubber gloves, O’Neill held aloft a clear evidence envelope containing a portion of the substance Luna is accused of selling to Wells.
“This is the fentanyl that killed Nick Wells,” he told jurors. “The evidence does not support (the fact) that this fentanyl, that killed Nick Wells, came from a phantom second dealer.”
There was no second dealer, O’Neill emphasized to the jury, because “Nick had no need of a second dealer.”
To Naro, however, even more important to Luna’s case is the degree of reasonable doubt that both evidence and witness testimony brought to light throughout the trial.
“You have heard evidence of an investigation, that I submit to you, was rife with incompetence, laziness and incompleteness. Because of that, the Wells family may never know the cause of Nick’s death,” Naro told jurors.
Another point Naro raised, and expounded upon, stems from the autopsy a Massachusetts medical examiner performed on Wells’s body.
It matters, Naro emphasized, “is how long the drugs were in Nick’s body. When did he use heroin, or fentanyl … or cocaine? That question goes unanswered,” he said, because “there is no evidence of an estimated time of death” in the autopsy report.
Naro suggested police, once they had Luna in custody, did little if anything when potentially significant information or evidence came their way over the past year and a half.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions in this case, and it keeps getting worse,” Naro said of the state’s case. “This is the stuff wrongful convictions are made of.”
Dean Shalhoup can be reached at 594-1256, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Telegraph_DeanS.