After months of delays, jury selection is finally getting under way in the murder trial of 29-year-old Neil Entwistle, a computer engineer from England charged with the murder of his 27-year-old wife, Rachel, and 9-month-old baby girl, Lillian.
On Friday, Judge Diane Kottmeyer said no to a defense request to move the trial to Martha's Vineyard because of all the pre-trial publicity. That decision paved the way for jury selection to begin in what many believe will be one of the most sensational murder trials ever seen in Massachusetts.
It's been almost 2 ½ years since the bodies of Rachel and Lillian Entwistle were found with their arms intertwined, lying in a bed, shot to death in their home on a quiet cul-de-sac in a small New England town just west of Boston.
Hopkinton is best known as the starting point for the Boston Marathon. The local police spend a lot of their time on crosswalk enforcement and graffiti problems. Reports of shots fired in this town of 15,000 people usually turn out to be fireworks.
But on a wintry day in January 2006, a group of people, including Rachel's mother Priscilla Matterazzo of Carver, Mass., showed up at the Entwistle home at 6 Cubs' Path for a casual dinner party.
The Entwistles had just moved into the rented house 10 days earlier. The house was dark and it looked like no one was home, and the small group grew worried and eventually called the police.
Officers checked the house, but found nothing. It wasn't until the next day, Jan. 22, after relatives still hadn't heard from the couple, that police went back to the house and carried out a thorough search and found the bodies.
Court documents indicate that Rachel Entwistle died from a single .22 caliber gunshot wound to the head, and Lillian died from a single .22 caliber gunshot wound to the chest. Rachel's arms were draped over Lillian.
Neil Entwistle was nowhere to be found.
Deep in Debt and Cruising Porn Sites
Robert Falcione, a longtime resident of Hopkinton and editor of Hopnews, a local Web site, said everyone in Hopkinton was shattered by the news.
"I don't think we've seen anything like that in this town," Falcione said. "They only lived here for 10 days. … That little girl had probably not even had a chance to go for a walk with her mom in a stroller downtown."
Authorities finally tracked Entwistle down at his parents' home in Worksop, England.
Court documents reveal that Entwistle told law enforcement that he found his wife and daughter dead after he returned from a shopping trip and he fled to England to be with his family. He never returned for the funeral and was arrested and charged with their murders on Feb. 8, 2006.
Entwistle's return to Massachusetts in February 2006 created a media frenzy. Helicopters hovered overhead and reporters swarmed the small courthouse as he arrived for his arraignment.
About the same time, hundreds of court documents were released that revealed sensational and unsavory details about the case to a news-hungry media.
Records showed that Neil Entwistle was heavily in debt and that he surfed porn sites shortly before the murders, including a local escort service called Blond Beauties Escort SVC and Adult Friend Finder.
Documents also indicated Entwistle conducted computer searches about murder and suicide in the days leading up to the murders. According to law enforcement records, his DNA was found on a .22 shotgun owned by his father-in-law.
Images of a Loving Family
But other images surfaced on the Internet as well. Rachel and Neil had established a Web site for family and friends with photographs of the smiling, attractive couple on vacation. There were also photos of a beaming Lillian sitting up on a picnic blanket and pictures of a smiling Rachel cradling Lillian in her arms.
Prosecutors contend Entwistle killed his wife and baby daughter because he was unhappy with his sex life and distraught over his mounting debts. But Entwistle has maintained that he had a happy marriage and he has no idea who could have killed his family.
Elaine Whitfield-Sharp, a Massachusetts defense attorney, knows a thing or two about sensational murder trials. Whitfield-Sharp defended Louise Woodward, an English nanny charged in 1997 with shaking 8-month-old Matthew Eappen to death.
"There are so many negatives stacked against him in the eyes and ears of potential jurors. You would have to have been living under a rock not to have heard of something negative about Entwistle," Whitfield-Sharp said. "It could be a real problem."
Entwistle's court-appointed attorney, Elliot Weinstein, has been tight-lipped about the way he intends to defend his client. He refused to talk about the case on Friday, saying only that he would maintain his long-held position that he would not comment on the case.
But legal analyst Wendy Murphy said instead of arguing a diminished capacity or insanity defense, it looks like Weinstein intends to challenge "every piece of evidence" the prosecution presents because the "witness list is so long."
The problem with that strategy, according to Murphy, is that there is a substantial amount of evidence in this case.
"You can argue one, two, three pieces of evidence, but when you ask juries to turn a skeptical eye to such a lot of evidence it becomes a problem," Murphy said.
The trial is expected to last about a month. And the courthouse has been gearing up for the media swarm for weeks.
Comparison to Scott Peterson
Murphy likens the Neil Entwistle trial to the much-watched trial of Scott Peterson.
Peterson's wife Laci was 8 months pregnant with a baby boy she planned to name Connor she went missing on Christmas Eve 2002. The families released dozens of photographs showing a smiling, happy couple and begged for Laci's safe return.
But the picture of a happy marriage soon crumbled as reports surfaced that Scott had been having affairs. He was eventually arrested and convicted of murder, and is currently on death row.
Entwistle, like Peterson, is a handsome man who had seemingly been part of a story-book marriage.
"I call him the classic case of the Dream Date Ken defense. You can't look like the handsome boy next door and be convicted of anything gruesome," Murphy said. "It's hard for people to believe that someone who looks so handsome is capable of evil things. … You're supposed to look like a monster."
So jury selection could be crucial in this case.
Although she is not working for the defense, Murphy said she believes the defense will be trying to place "conservative white males, father's rights types" on the jury — men who might believe a man could be locked up unjustly.
Older women might be another key for the defense, according to Murphy, because they might be more reluctant to accept that "a guy like Neil could commit a crime … moms who forgive and justify that motherly instinct could work to his advantage."
Family Keeping Quiet
As the weeks have passed into months since the murders, Neil Entwistle has passed his time in a jail cell in Cambridge, Mass., leaving only to attend the occasional court hearing. It is not known whether his family in England will come to Boston for the trial.
For their part, the family and friends of Rachel and Lillian Entwistle have not talked publicly about the murders, but they have created a Web site in their memory, RachelandLillian.org.
On the site, there are pictures of a pudgy Lillian, grinning in a Halloween skunk costume and photos of a beaming Rachel hugging her baby – a baby who never got the chance to blow out the candles on her first birthday cake.
There are dozens of messages on the site and most sound a familiar theme: "You are in our thoughts and prayers as the trial begins. May justice be served for Rachel and Lillian and their family and friends."
And as the trial begins, legal observers are weighing in with their thoughts too.
"If he gets acquitted, it will be a miracle," Whitfield-Sharp said.