THE CASE: Christopher’s Death

On January 22, 1996, Brian lived in Westport, MA, renting a house at 14 E Drive. He shared the house with Steve Morton, with whom he worked part time at Oasis nightclub, also in Westport.  Brian was living in the furnished basement of the house, although he had full access and use of the entire home. Brian was 26 years old and dating 21 year old Ami Sneed. He had known Ms. Sneed for about five months and they had been dating for about three months. Ms. Sneed was staying at Brian’s home with her two children, Christopher, age 3, and Tarissa, age 4. The children had different biological fathers, neither was Brian’s child.

Ms. Sneed and her children began staying at Brian’s home when her heat and electricity had been turned off for non-payment.  In his testimony, Brian explained that Ms. Sneed had told him that her mother was trying to have her children taken away from her thus she could not ask her mother for help. Brian recalled conversations where Ms. Sneed said things to the effect, “I can’t believe her (Ms. Sneed’s mother), she is trying to take my own kids away from me. She’s supposed to be on my side. She’s my mother.”

On the evening of the 22nd, sometime between 6:00 and 7:00pm, Ms. Sneed and Brian were upstairs, while the children were in the furnished basement.  It was common for Ms. Sneed to leave the kids unattended. Brian was down the hall in the bathroom and Ms. Sneed was in the living room, closest to the basement stairs, smoking a cigarette. Tarissa was yelling from the basement that her brother was throwing-up. Brian exited the bathroom and met Ms. Sneed in the hall walking towards the basement. They both went downstairs together and found Christopher in what appeared to be a seizure, convulsing and throwing-up. Brian gave him CPR but his eyes were bloodshot and rolling back in his head. He was unresponsive.They rushed Christopher a mile down the road to a fire/paramedic station. Christopher was transported to the St. Anne’s Hospital, in Fall River, MA. They followed.

At the hospital, between 8:00 and 9:00pm, Ms. Sneed was taken alone into a side room to be interviewed by Westport Police Detectives, Michael Roussel and Mario Lewis.  She was interviewed in the presence of Hospital Social Worker Cory Oliveira. According to transcripts and Ms. Oliveira’s notes, Ms. Sneed told investigators her first version of events as stated above but with some slight differences. For example, she stated that while both she and Brian were upstairs, she heard a banging sound which she thought might be the TV falling off the stand. She further stated that when she and Brian first approached Christopher, he said “Mommy.” Finally, she explained that she had given Christopher a bath the night before and was unaware of any bruises or marks on him. She stated that neither Brian nor her ever hit or hurt Christopher.

After some time, Tarissa was brought into the social worker’s office. Ms. Sneed asked her daughter for a hug. The child refused; while backing-up the child said, “I don’t want you.” Ms. Oliveira thought this was significant enough to document in her report. The jury, however, was not allowed to hear this evidence. See Issues of Concern #4.

Ms. Sneed asked Brian to take Tarissa to her sister’s house, approximately 2 miles from the hospital. Ms. Sneed explained that Christopher’s father was on his way to the hospital. Brian drove Tarissa to Heather Sneed’s house, Ms. Sneed’s sister, and left her with the sister. Brian returned to the hospital and was met by Mario DeCunha, the hospital security officer. Mario and Brian were friends. Brian was told he should leave because the police think that he may have done something to hurt Christopher, also because he did not want a conflict with Christopher’s father. Brian told Mario that he would go to Steve Morton’s ex- wife’s house, which was approximately 10 minutes from the hospital. He chose her house because he did not want to go far from the hospital.

Brian left the hospital for the second time and drove to the home of Lisa Morton. Steve and Lisa were divorced but working on getting back together. Brian knew her through his friendship with Steve. When Brian arrived at Lisa’s home, she was not there, so he waited in the driveway for her to return. Lisa arrived home with her two children and invited Brian inside to wait for news. While at Lisa’s home, Steve called and spoke with Brian on the phone. Brian explained what had happened and why he was asked to leave the hospital.  Steve said that he would go to the hospital to find out news on Christopher.

Brian was noticeably upset and worried. Lisa gave him two Valium and he laid on the couch and fell asleep. Around 10:00pm, Steve arrived at Lisa’s house and woke Brian. He told Brian that Christopher had died and the police wanted to talk to him. Brian then went to the Westport Police Station with Steve and another friend.

Westport Police detective, Mike Roussel, and State Police Trooper, Michael King, questioned Brian. Det. Roussel knew Brian from his security work and used their relationship to lead Brian through the interrogation as he saw fit.

It is important to note that Brian had consumed twice the adult dosage of Valium two hours prior to the interrogation. This was in addition to the muscle relaxants taken earlier as prescribed for his work-related injury.  He was not in full control of his faculties. It is confirmed in court documents that he could not recall his license plate or even his telephone number, yet Det. Michael Roussel determined him to have the appropriate mental capacity to conduct his interview. It should also be noted that the police made the conscious decision not to (audio or video) record the interrogation although they did make sure to have the video recorder available when they went to Brian’s house and again on him in the cell after his arrest.

In a separate room, Ms. Sneed was being questioned again, this time by Westport Police Detective Mario Lewis, and State Police Sergeant Kevin Butler. (It should be noted that none of the police interviews were recorded or video-taped.) Both Brian and Ms. Sneed gave similar statements, similar to Ms. Sneed’s original statement at the hospital. After being asked several questions, Ms. Sneed left with her family. Brian was asked to consent to a search of his house. After consent, Brian was given a ride home by Detective Roussel. Detectives searched the house, took a towel that was used to clean-up Christopher’s vomit, and took several photos. They left at approximately 12:00am. Brian went to stay with his father.

IF YOU HAVE ANY INFORMATION WHICH MAY BE OF ASSISTANCE TO THIS CASE, PLEASE SEND A CONFIDENTIAL EMAIL TO INFO@BRIANPEIXOTO.COM

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