BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — DANVERS — It is, as John Coyne’s own lawyer acknowledged, an “ugly” case.
Four young people, at least three of them addicted to heroin, had spent the afternoon of Feb. 28, 2011, searching for the drug, traveling from Danvers to Quincy and then back to Danvers again, where, prosecutors allege, they scored four bags from a dealer in a trailer park.
Within moments, two young women were unconscious from overdoses. Coyne, 24, and his friend Roberto Vasquez, 25, left them on the street, “like a bag of trash,” where one of them was then run over by a driver on his way home from work, prosecutor Jane Prince told a Newburyport Superior Court jury yesterday.
Coyne is facing charges of assault and battery causing serious bodily injury, for allegedly wantonly and recklessly leaving one woman in the middle of the street at the corner of Hyde and Irving, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, the heroin the other woman allegedly asked him to inject into her that day.
“This case is about the reckless disregard that Mr. Coyne had” for the women, Prince told the jury in her opening statement.
One young woman was left in a snowbank, the other in the middle of the street, the prosecutor said.
Coyne denies injecting the woman with heroin. And defense lawyer Michael Natola told jurors that no one can say for certain how they got out of the car that day.
Prince suggests that the evidence is clear: Coyne and Vasquez had to have put them out, after both young women became unconscious almost immediately after taking the heroin. Vasquez pleaded guilty to being an accessory to the crime in September and is serving a one-year prison sentence.
Prince points to a witness, the driver who struck the woman lying in the road, who described both of them as looking “lifeless.”
John Thompson was on Hyde Street around 2:30 p.m. when he saw a young man he later identified from a photo as Coyne, standing in a snowbank. He recalled wondering what the man was doing there, or if he was dumping trash, the prosecutor said.
Suddenly, as the truck approached, Coyne bolted toward a small car, which sped off, the passenger side still open where Coyne had jumped inside, Thompson told investigators.
As he looked at the snowbank, Prince told jurors, Thomspon saw a “lifeless body.” And then he felt his pickup truck jump, as if he’d driven over something. And then, he felt a second jump.
A “horrified” Thompson realized he’d just driven over another young woman.
He called 911.
So did Coyne. But Coyne was vague. “I was driving by and I saw two girls by the side of the road,” Coyne told the 911 dispatcher.
As for the young women, Prince said, they recall nothing after the trailer park. The woman who was run over wondered how she ended up outside the car, as she recovered from a lacerated liver, broken shoulder and dislocated knee, the prosecutor said.
Both young women are expected to testify during the trial, which is anticipated to continue through Thursday.
But Natola suggested to jurors that the young women, who had already ingested an unknown amount of the anti-anxiety drug Klonopin that day, were the ones at fault.
Natola described how the two, who had been staying at the Days Inn in Danvers, called Coyne for a ride to their drug dealer in Quincy. When they couldn’t find any heroin there, they went back to Danvers, Natola said, to a dealer one of the women knew — “not because Mr. Coyne knew,” he told the jury.
Natola said one of the young women, who says Coyne injected the drug for her, was found to have both new and used hypodermic needles in her purse, and questioned her claim that she was afraid of injecting herself.
“It wasn’t John Coyne who shot her up,” Natola said. She “was a longtime heroin user, and she shot herself up.”
That’s also what the woman told an EMT, before changing her story the next day and claiming that Coyne had injected her with the drug.
The other woman, questioned by police as she recovered at Massachusetts General Hospital, offered conflicting accounts, but also noted that her friend was “(expletive)-faced” and “don’t remember nothing.”
Thompson, Natola said, never saw Coyne moving either young woman and cannot say how long they were in the road before he arrived. “Nobody knows,” Natola said.
His client is not expected to testify during the trial.
Natola acknowledged to jurors that Coyne fled. “He drove off because he was scared,” the lawyer said.
Prince had hoped to bolster the state’s evidence of Coyne’s motive to flee the scene by introducing evidence that he was already on probation for another offense at the time of the incident and feared that a violation would send him to jail for a year.
Judge Richard Welch III said there was merit to her argument that the normally inadmissible evidence of a defendant’s prior record was relevant in this case, because it explains why he fled the scene. But he expressed concern that the information could prejudice jurors against Coyne. And given that the jury could already infer that Coyne had reason to fear getting into trouble for being present at the scene of a drug overdose, the judge ruled that Coyne’s probation status is not admissible.
Coyne, while awaiting trial, ended up serving a year for that probation violation.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.