On March 28, 2000, Iman Yazbek was shot and killed in a hallway of the Faneuil Housing Development. On the night of the incident, Mr. Yazbek, a 35 year-old landscaper, took out Joleena Tate, a sixteen year-old high school student, for dinner at Wadi’s Restaurant in Watertown. Mr. Yazbek had been known to have a long-standing relationship with the young Joleena. Knowing that Mr. Yazbek carried a lot of cash on him, Joleena planned to rob him later that evening. So after dinner, Joleena lured Mr. Yazbek to a hallway in the Faneuil Housing Development, where he was ultimately murdered.
Three months later, the tragedy of Mr. Yazbek’s murder was followed by the arrests of Tanzerious Anderson, a Northeastern University freshmen and new father, and Jason Robinson, a hard-working security guard, soon-to-be college freshmen, who had also recently become a father, too. Needing to explain her presence at Mr. Yazbek’s death, Joleena Tate, after consulting with her father and lawyer, decided to divert attention away from herself by pointing the finger at Tanzerious and Jason. After numerous interviews and statements with the police, this becomes the first time Tanzerious or Jason's name was mentioned. Joleena was familiar with the two young men through her friendship with Jason’s former girlfriend, Heather Coady. With the help of Heather, and another friend, Eddie Gauthier, Joleena blamed Tanzerious and Jason for the robbery-turned-murder, in order to protect herself from being arrested.
The police investigation produced no physical evidence linking either Tanzerious or Jason to the crime; no DNA evidence, no fingerprints, no footprints, no bloody clothing-nothing. Even though Jason and Tanzerious were each with their respective friends and family during the reported time Mr. Yazbek was murdered, not a single alibi witness was questioned by detectives.
The sole eyewitness to this murder, Oscar Vega, testified that he was sitting in his apartment, by a window doing homework when he saw Heather, who he knew from the neighborhood and another young woman, with a description that matched Joleena Tate, walk by immediately before and after he heard gunshots. Importantly, Jason, who grew up in the Fanuel Housing development and is well known throughout the neighborhood, was not seen by Mr. Vega at the time of the crime.
At no time during questioning did Jason or Tanzerious confess to the crime, nor did they offer any contradictory statements. Further, no weapon was ever found that linked either of the young men to the murder.
Despite this lack of evidence, the Commonwealth brought charges of first-degree murder, two counts of armed robbery, and illegal possession of a firearm against Tanzerious and Jason, based solely on the statements of Joleena, Heather, and Eddie, the only know persons at the scene of the crime.
Tanzerious and Jason repeatedly requested separate trials. They believed that separate trials would allow for clearer messaging. However, these requests were denied and on March 19, 2002, the murder trial against Tanzerious and Jason began before Judge Barbara J. Rouse in Suffolk Superior Court.
A private attorney named Timothy Flaherty represented Tanzerious. Jason was represented by a public defender named Michael Doolin. The district attorney prosecuting the case was Robert Tochka. The trial lasted a week and half, and the jury deliberated for three days before returning with a guilty verdict for both Jason and Tanzerious.
Jason Robinson and Tanzerious Anderson’s constitutional rights to a fair trial, with adequate defense, were grossly violated. Click here for more info about the violations of Tanzerious and Jason’s constitutional rights
THE SENTENCING: On April 4th, 2002, Tanzerious and Jason were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Tanzerious’ case was appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 2005. Robert S. Sinsheimer, who represented Tanzerious on his appeal, did not confer with Tanzerious before submitting his brief despite agreeing to do so. Therefore, Sinsheimer failed to adequately raise numerous issues that Tanzerious wished him to include, forcing Tanzerious to submit a brief on his own behalf (called a Moffett brief).
On September 22, 2005, the Court ruled against Tanzerious on his appeal. The Court dealt with Tanzerious’ Moffett brief in summary fashion because, not surprisingly, as a pro se defendant (without the help of an attorney,) he did not have the resources to include affidavits with this brief or the legal resources to support his arguments with citations to the proper authority. This was unfortunate, as Tanzerious raised one of his strongest claims in the Moffett brief—ineffective assistance of counsel.
As a result of the one-year statute of limitations put into place by the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) during Clinton's mass incarceration agenda, Tanzerious had to file his Habeas petition in federal court within a year in order to preserve it. Thus, on September 21, 2006, he filed the Habeas petition pro se, and also asked for a ‘Stay Pending Exhaustion of State Court Remedies.’
Traditionally, federal courts don’t rule on a Habeas appeal until all options at the state level have been tried by a defendant and found to be unsuccessful. This means that, normally, a defendant files a Habeas petition right after his appeal is denied by his state’s highest court in order to preserve it, but then he asks that the Habeas petition be “stayed”—meaning the court doesn’t decide the Habeas petition until sometime in the future once all state options have been tried and exhausted.
However, the Federal court that heard Tanzerious’ Habeas appeal denied his petition and also denied his request to “stay.” Thus, the court went ahead and ruled on the substance of his Habeas appeal, denying it on all counts. With the aid of his new attorney, Robert Sheketof, Tanzerious is developing a new approach to appealing his conviction.
Jason’s Attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio represented Jason in his Rule 30 Motion for a new trial in Suffolk Superior Court. Attorney Scapicchio was able to successfully establish that Jason’s constitutional right to a public trial was violated because the courtroom was closed to the public during jury selection on the first day of their trial.
On January 6, 2017, Kenneth W. Salinger, Justice of Superior Court, allowed Jason’s motion for a new trial on the premise that Jason’s trial attorney was unaware of the closure, and that a structural error in the proceedings did indeed occur. Jason’s prior convictions of murder in the first degree, two counts of robbery, and illegal possession of a firearm, were vacated.
The Commonwealth challenged the Honorable Judge Salinger’s decision. Too often, the courts refuse to admit their role in flawed convictions or the continued prosecution of innocent citizens, in order to preserve their reputation, or to avoid opening itself up to wrongful conviction lawsuits.
The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) heard arguments on January 19, 2018. Unfortunately, the Honorable Judge Salinger’s decision was overturned. Jason’s attorney is now filling motions addressing the additional ways his rights were violated, including the following:
There are limited avenues for both Jason and Tanzerious to seek relief, and each attempt that fails further reduces their chances of attaining justice. There are however, new avenues presenting themselves.
Legislation such as:
A favorable decision for Jason will also be favorable for Tanzerious, for both men as Co-Defendants, experienced the same constitutional violations.
January 2017: A new trial was granted in Commonwealth v. Jason Robinson on a public trial issue.
Massachusetts Legal Resources Legal News: Commonwealth v. Robinson (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-001-17)