Thursday, 26 June 2008

Homeward bound

As I arrived at Boston Logan Airport for my flight home after seeing Neil Entwistle jailed for life, I couldn't help but think of the double-murderer making the same journey almost two and a half years ago. 

My cab passed through the central parking garage where Entwistle abandoned his BMW X3 on the morning of January 21, 2006, less than 24 hours after he callously shot dead his wife and nine-month-old baby daughter. 

Inside the terminal building, I struggled with my bags, worried about what sharp items I may have neglected to remove from my hand luggage and checked for the 17th time in an hour that I had the right documents. 

As I became increasingly flustered, the CCTV images I saw at the trial showing Entwistle arriving at this very same airport came to my mind.  

He was cool, calm, collected and casual - just another apparently seasoned traveller passing through. He arrived with no ticket and no luggage - just a passport and a credit card to meet the $787 fare.  

To know that someone could appear so calm just hours after committing crimes labelled "incomprehensible", "unspeakable" and "cowardly" by those dealing with the case sends a chill down the spine.

I will spend my seven-hour trip across the Atlantic reading my book, listening to music, taking painkillers for my infected root canal and thinking back on the many and varied experiences of the last month in Woburn, Massachusetts. 

I wonder what Entwistle thought about to pass the time on his flight back home in 2006. 

Whatever went through his mind then, he has a lot more time to pass now as he faces up to the fact that he has lost his freedom forever.

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Smile like a star

Of all the things I wanted to experience in Woburn, root canal surgery was not high on the list. 

But as Neil Entwistle's trial approached the end of its third week, an unfortunate incident with a cinnamon raisin bagel and a crumbling molar meant I found myself in the chair at Woburn's (and possibly the world's) only movie-themed dental surgery. 

If the sign outside saying "We cater to cowards" had not been enough to put me off, the dizzying array of movie posters and memorabilia inside did make me wonder what on earth I was letting myself in for - but the searing pain in my mouth left me with no choice. 

As it happened, the choice turned out to be root canal surgery there and then, or lose the tooth altogether. 

I lay back in the chair and tried to focus on the piped-in movie theme tunes and the poster-sized photograph of Harrison Ford looming above me on the ceiling, but even then the trial of Neil Entwistle was never far away. 

As I was left alone to wait for the novocaine to start doing its job, conversation in the next cubicle was all about the trial as another patient mulled over the evidence with a dental nurse. They covered every aspect of the case, the witnesses and the media coverage. I was almost glad when the drilling started and drowned it out. 

And as I finally sat up slack-jawed, dribbling and disorientated three hours later, my dentist began: "So, my visitor from England, I've got to ask - did he do it? Do British people think he did it?" I tried to mumble something intelligent, or at least coherent, in reply.  

Hours later, dosed up on codeine and antibiotics, I looked at the letterhead on my aftercare advice and saw the dentist's motto: "Smile like a star".  Suddenly the movie theme made sense. Or at least as much sense as it ever could.  

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The woe in Woburn

As the trial of Neil Entwistle moves into its third week, several days have passed by with no comment about my charming British accent. 

Woburn's two taxi drivers no longer have to ask me why I'm here or where I'm from.  Hotel staff ask how the trial is going as we troop out of the doors at 8am and back in at 5pm. Even the barman knows my usual evening tipple without having to ask.

The good people of Woburn might even miss us when we're gone, whenever that may be.  

The court has now heard hour after hour of scientific evidence on blood stains, gunshot residue, ballistics, DNA and computer records.  

This morning a DNA specialist has spent several hours reading out complicated strings of numbers from charts aiming to prove matches for Entwistle's DNA profile.
And as the evidence gets increasingly technical and tough to follow, the tabletop in the media room has changed from this scene of organisation and professionalism: this sugar and E-number feast:

I think that says it all. 

Friday, 13 June 2008

"That's all I have"

There has been much debate in the press room at Middlesex Superior Court about the sometimes bizarre, and unexpectedly brief, questioning of witnesses by Neil Entwistle's defence team. 

Lawyer Elliot Weinstein, who has a different pair of cowboy boots for each day of the week, has been living up to his reputation as something of a maverick. 

But six days into the evidence, none of us can quite work out his strategy. 

Both Mr Weinstein and his co-counsel Stephanie Page have spent a little too much time questioning Rachel's relatives about tensions between the family's pets. 

There were bemused looks all round as Ms Page pressed Rachel's mother Priscilla Matterazzo repeatedly about how well her dog Cassie got along with Rachel's Basset Hound Sally.

On another occasion, Mr Weinstein burst into laughter after hearing from Joseph Matterazzo that the family also had four cats. 

"I'm curious," he joked, "Did the dogs and cats get along?"

After a police officer took the stand to talk about how Entwistle's white BMW was found at Boston Logan Airport, Mr Weinstein approached the podium to begin his cross examination. 

"So it was just a normal car pulled into a normal parking space?"


"That's all I have," Mr Weinstein remarked as he returned to his seat. 

With the defence case expected to begin some time next week, I can't help but wonder just what else he does have. 

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

A sad reminder

When Yvonne Entwistle was led out of court in tears this morning after hearing testimony about her son's devotion to his baby daughter, it was a stark reminder to everyone gathered in court of the extent of the tragedy at the centre of this double-murder trial. 

Each day in court, Clifford and Yvonne Entwistle, and their younger son Russell, have sat behind Neil Entwistle and the lawyers fighting his case. 

They have appeared stoic - declaring their faith in their son's innocence and always offering him a smile and a nod as he is led into court each day, their expressions barely readable to the spectators scrutinising them.

Across the aisle of the public gallery sit up to a dozen members of Rachel Entwistle's family - her mother and step-father, Priscilla and Joseph Matterazzo, her brother Jerome, and many more.  

One TV reporter overheard recording the voiceover to his latest package likened the layout to the way the families would have gathered at Rachel and Neil's wedding in 2003. The comparison raised a few wry smiles in the press room, but contrived as it sounded it was true. 

Whether their son committed the crimes or not, it should not be forgotten that the Entwistles - just like the Matterazzos - lost their granddaughter on January 20, 2006.  

It is difficult to think of a more horrific murder than the point-blank shooting of a tiny nine-month-old baby girl.

The more we learn about Rachel and Neil's apparently happy and contented life before this tragedy began to unfold, the clearer it becomes how horrific and unimaginable the situation must have been - and must still be - for everyone caught up in it.  

Monday, 9 June 2008

Entwistle evacuated

After a day of gripping testimony from Neil Entwistle's father-in-law, proceedings at Middlesex Superior Court were beginning to wind down at 3pm today. 

A succession of construction industry workers had been on the witness stand testifying about the whereabouts of Joseph Matterazzo, whose gun was used to shoot Rachel and Lillian Entwistle, on the day of the killings.

Journalists from both sides of the Atlantic were beginning to gather in the press room to start filing the day's copy, knowing that the top line of the day had already come out. The mood was beginning to relax. 

Then flashing lights and an automated voice interrupted the air of concentration in the room - the building was being evacuated because of an emergency situation in the courthouse. To say the assembled reporters weren't keen to head out into the 95F heat of the day would be an understatement. 

But press, court staff, onlookers, lawyers and family members of Neil Entwistle eventually gathered in the car park in the late afternoon sun as two fire trucks pulled up, sirens blaring. The judge, jurors and Entwistle himself were the only faces from the courtroom not present with the general rabble outside. 

The alert was a false alarm and no one could quite work out where Entwistle was whisked away to, or whether in fact he was brought out of the building at all. 

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Woburn - the Brits invade

When the first day of evidence in Neil Entwistle's trial ended on Friday, there was a mass exodus of British journalists from the small town of Woburn towards Boston Logan International Airport. 

The local news channels turned their attention away from the case as the weekend passed by, with the intense heatwave currently gripping Massachusetts and the Boston Celtics' basketball success lightening the mood. 

And for those of us here in Woburn - or WOO-ben, to give it the local pronunciation - for the duration, the weekend was at least an opportunity to put the trial temporarily out of our minds. 

But the novelty of having a British accent in this quiet corner of small-town Massachusetts means barely a few hours go by without having to explain to a taxi driver, waiter or drunken bar fly why we're here. 

"There's a big trial happening at the Superior Court involving a British man and I'm a newspaper reporter," is the usual line I give them. 

"Oh yeah, Entwistle," is always the repsonse, usually followed closely by: "I gotta tell you, I LOVE your accent."

One bus driver even asked: "I've always wanted to know, does it hurt your throat to talk like that?"

A teenage waiter in a diner near my hotel was amazed that so many of us are here for so long. 

"I've never met a British person," he said. "I've never even been outside of Massachusetts."

With the trial set to go on for at least another three weeks, we Brits are going to become part of the furniture here.  And I've no doubt that the novelty of the accent will soon wear off.