, Salem, MA

October 25, 2013

Jury weighs fate of Peabody woman's killer

Defense claims Chappell was insane when he killed counselor


---- — PEABODY — Deshawn Chappell had a diagnosis of schizophrenia. That diagnosis had led to hospitalizations, medications, and placement in a group home under contract to the Department of Mental Health.

But on the morning of Jan. 20, 2011, he showed none of the obvious signs of the often-devastating mental illness, a prosecutor suggested to jurors yesterday during his closing argument in Chappell’s trial on first-degree murder charges.

The night before, he had asked for a wake-up call from a staff member at the group home in Revere where he lived. That morning he got up, showered, dressed and made himself breakfast, Edmond Zabin told the Suffolk Superior Court jury.

And then he waited for the rest of the staff to leave so that he would be alone with Stephanie Moulton, 25, a Peabody woman working as a counselor there.

“Stephanie Moulton was there alone, by herself and vulnerable, and when she’s faced with her killer — this man — there was nobody there to help her, nobody to hear her cries for help,” Zabin said. “She was in this position because this man planned it that way.”

Not so, argued Daniel Solomon, Chappell’s attorney, who told jurors that the 30-year-old defendant is not guilty by reason of insanity.

Solomon argued that Chappell’s history of mental illness, documented in 1,800 pages of records from at least five hospitalizations, both before and after the crime, absolves him of criminal responsibility for his actions that morning.

Solomon said Chappell was hearing voices, including that of Moulton herself, telling him to kill the young woman.

He pointed to what he suggested were “chaotic and disorganized” attempts to deal with the aftermath of the killing, including a haphazard attempt at cleaning up blood.

“He didn’t flee to New Hampshire or Belize,” said Solomon. He went to a relative’s home in Dorchester, a place where he could be found easily.

But Zabin, the prosecutor, argued that everything Chappell did after killing Moulton could be viewed as an act of self-preservation, including trying to clean up the bloody crime scene and, when that failed, setting the group home on fire.

Chappell put the victim in her car, then went to find the keys, Zabin said. He drove her body to a church parking lot in Lynn, near where he had once lived and where he knew few people would be likely be around on a weekday. Then he drove to Boston to ask family members for money.

When they refused, he went to an A.J. Wright store, stole some clothing, slipped out a back door, changed clothes and got rid of his blood-stained garments and the murder weapon.

He did such a good job washing up that there was just one “speck” of Moulton’s blood left, on a finger, Zabin said.

“He made every attempt to distance himself from the evidence in this case, and he almost did it,” Zabin told the jury.

That shows that Chappell was capable of making “deliberate, calculated choices, and we have a name for that — first-degree murder,” Zabin argued.

Much of the closing arguments by both sides focused on the credibility of the expert witnesses.

Dr. Martin Kelly, an expert witness for the prosecutors, told jurors yesterday morning that he does not believe Chappell was legally insane at the time of the killing. Kelly also suggested that the original diagnosis of schizophrenia was questionable, given the lack of certain symptoms of the disorder, including “fixed” delusions. Instead, Kelly testified, Chappell seemed to vary in his accounts of which voices he was hearing.

Kelly said he believes Chappell was simply someone with antisocial personality disorder, typical of many people who commit crimes.

The defense attorney then produced a list of cases dating to the 1980s in which Kelly drew the same conclusion, suggesting that Kelly was a hired gun paid to say whatever the prosecution wanted him to. Solomon, the defense attorney, called Kelly’s testimony “cherry-picking baloney.”

Instead, Solomon urged the jury to rely on the doctors who had evaluated Chappell over the years, including the defense’s expert witness, Dr. David Werner, and a court psychologist who met with Chappell on the morning of his arraignment in Chelsea District Court and concluded that he was incompetent and needed to be hospitalized.

Stephanie Moulton’s parents were present in court, as was Chappell’s mother.

Moulton’s parents, Kim Flynn and Bob Moulton, are pursuing a separate civil lawsuit against the board of directors of North Suffolk Mental Health, the private agency contracted to run the group home for Department of Mental Health clients.

The Supreme Judicial Court is scheduled to hear arguments next month in a dispute over evidence the Moultons and their attorney are seeking in the civil case.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.