Vassell Wins in Hampshire Superior Court

June 4, 2010 12:00 am

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Case of UMass Amherst student who faced charges with potential for a 30-year sentence to have charges dismissed.


NORTHAMPTON — Today the Hampshire Superior Court ordered the case of Jason Vassell, an African-American student at UMass Amherst who faced much more serious charges than his white assailants in a February 2008 campus attack, to be dismissed on August 3, 2010, as long as Vassell remains out of legal trouble until that time. Technically, the Superior Court ordered two and a half years of pre-trial probation but retroactively credited him with 28 months of that time.

“Jason Vassell won a huge victory in Hampshire Superior Court today,” said Bill Newman, director of the ACLU of Massachusetts Western Legal Office. “From the defense’s point of view, it just doesn’t get much better than continuing a case for two months for dismissal.” Newman and ACLU of Massachusetts legal director John Reinstein had joined the Vassell defense of attorneys David Hoose and Luke Ryan of Northampton, to help pursue the claim that the prosecution of Vassell was a racially biased, discriminatory, selective prosecution.

Vassell’s defense asked the Superior Court to dismiss the indictments on this ground, and the Superior Court ruled that defense had cleared the high procedural bar of demonstrating facts sufficient to support the claim case of selective, racially discriminatory prosecution.

In allowing the claim to proceed, the Superior Court also ordered the District Attorney’s office to provide discovery: information about interracial crimes and prosecutions conducted by Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel. The prosecution appealed the judge’s discovery order to the Single Justice session of the Supreme Judicial Court, but the SJC rejected Scheibel’s appeal.

On February 3, 2008, intoxicated intruders at UMass Amherst smashed a dormitory window, shouted racial slurs at occupant Jason Vassell, and demanded a fight. When Vassell went to the dormitory lobby to meet a friend he had called for help, the intruders found him, and the larger of the two men punched Vassell in the face, breaking his nose. During the ensuing fight, Vassell used a pocketknife to defend himself, stabbing both the men before escaping behind a locked door. As a result, Vassell faced two counts of aggravated assault and battery with a deadly weapon.

Despite overwhelming evidence of an unprovoked and racially motivated attack on a black student by two white non-students, the investigation focused almost immediately on Vassell, with one police officer assuming that the incident occurred as part of a drug deal. Vassell’s assailants, John Bowes and Jonathan Bosse, appeared in previous police reports alleging involvement in other violent incidents. Bosse was never charged, and Bowes received probation for disorderly conduct.

After today’s hearing, attorney David Hoose thanked the Justice For Jason Committee that had organized rallies and protests and supported Vassell over the past nearly two and a half years. Hoose told the hundred of supporters of Vassell who gathered today, “Almost two and a half years ago, Jason Vassell walked into court innocent, and today he walked out of court–innocent.”

Today’s agreement to have the case dismissed without a hearing means that the Motion to Dismiss based on racially biased selective prosecution will not be decided.

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