In 2009, the death of 24-year-old Christopher Souza at his home in the Mystic housing development sent ripples through the Somerville community. The details of the killing were disheartening, with Souza found, by his mother, choked to death by the cords connecting his video game consoles. Making matters worse, the theft of the PlayStation and XBox consoles was widely considered the motivation for the killing.
Despite the apprehension arising from the murder, authorities were apparently unable to track down clues for years – until this week. Tuesday, Michael Barnett, 32, a fellow resident of Somerville, was arrested and indicted on charges of murder, armed robbery and witness intimidation. Barnett’s girlfriend, 32-year-old Kelly Murray, was also indicted on two counts of witness intimidation. Barnett has a long criminal history, which includes leading police in a high-speed chase after stealing a car in 2012.
Barnett’s capture and indictment, three years after Souza’s murder, raises questions of what information police now have – having failed to obtain following the murder – that would provide sufficient evidence to warrant grand jury indictment. Outside of a rap sheet that includes, along with the car chase, shoplifting, assault and battery and a number of other Somerville break-ins, many locals and Mystic residents have long suspected Barnett’s involvement in Souza’s murder. Souza’s aunt, Nancy Medeiros, talked of Barnett’s reputation in the projects as “bad news”, stating that he was believed to be involved in the robbery and killing almost immediately after the crime was committed.
All of this makes the question even starker: why now?
Middlesex District Attorney Gerald T. Leone chalked it up to new evidence emerging from “new public awareness”. The supposed source for generating this awareness was none other than a FOX 25 program called New England’s Unsolved, which aired last year.
While authorities have not yet confirmed that pertinent evidence was provided as a result of the program, FOX 25 was quick to jump on the efficacy of its report, not only in raising awareness, but in prompting individuals with any information to reach out to law enforcement. Reporting on the arrest, FOX 25’s Brett Connolly said investigators credited leads from the program’s viewers in helping bring Barnett and Murray into custody.
It’s a mystery as to what type of additional information local residents, who thought they knew the killer’s identity right after the murder, could provide to law enforcement after three long years. It also remains to be seen the role of Murray, charged with witness intimidation, and to what extent the new evidence links the original crime and the cover-up.
It stands to reason that if Murray knew of witnesses to intimidate, and made a concerted effort to keep them quiet, investigators may have had evidentiary links to the crime, suggesting an arrest three years in the making. Moreover, as Barnett has been through numerous incarcerations since 2009, if police have only now begun looking into his participation in the Souza murder, investigative resources were not fully utilized, at best. At worst, officials holding a dangerous armed robber long rumored to be involved in a nearby, unsolved murder, failed, more than once, to put 2 and 2 together.
Perhaps the program was the investigation. Investigators, likely burdened by the volume of other crimes, punted a low-priority murder to local news and hoped for a hail mary, all the while the most likely suspect was right under their nose, and in their custody, on more than one occasion. Whether the work of couch detectives will be sufficient to put Barnett and Murray away remains to be seen.