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Why are people so obsessed with the Karen Read trial?

Karen Read trial has attracted national attention. Why are people so obsessed?
Karen Read trial has attracted national attention. Why are people so obsessed? 03:17

READING - The soundtrack at Julie Centrella's Reading clothing store has changed: each day, instead of music, she's listening to court testimony.

"At home while I'm getting ready, I have it on Court TV," she said. "I listen to it on the way here... And then when I come here, I put it back on Court TV."

Centralla is one of thousands of people across Massachusetts - and the country - who have become completely hooked on following the Karen Read trial.

Read accused of killing boyfriend in 2022  

Read is accused of killing her boyfriend, Boston Police Officer John O'Keefe, by hitting him with her car back in January 2022 on a snowy night after drinking.

But Centrella, like so many others, doesn't believe Read did it. "I do think that Karen is innocent," she said. "I think there's been a lot of crazy coincidences and a lot of things happening - a lot of people losing their phone or butt dialing."

Karen Read, right, chats with her attorney David Yannetti, center, and Elizabeth Little, left, during her murder trial at Norfolk Superior Court on Tuesday, May 28, 2024, in Dedham, Mass.  Stuart Cahill/The Boston Herald via AP, Pool

At her local boutique, Aine's in Reading, she's had customers come in to shop during court lunch breaks. "There was a customer in here who said 'oh I gotta go. The break is going to be over in a few minutes' and I said 'oh I have it up here'... And we ended up turning the monitor around and next thing you know there's about five people watching the trial."

"I would say at this point, [it's a] borderline obsession," she said. She laughed, and followed the comment up with, "not really."

Myra Pieri of Tewksbury describes herself as "hooked." Unlike Centrella, who started following the case two years ago, Pieri just started paying close attention in recent weeks after her social media algorithm fed her videos of the trial.

"Every day I've got to tune in"

"I feel like I'm deep dive into a Netflix special," she said. "Every day I've got to tune in."

Pieri is originally from Dedham - so the case drew local interest. She's a nurse practitioner and keeps the trial stream on in the back office, checking in on updates between patients. Whatever she has missed, she watches at home that night.

Pieri says she's reserving her judgment for the end. "A lot of what I'm seeing in the trial doesn't make sense," she reflected. "Like why cops are saying what they did, why people are saying what they did, Solo cups in Stop & Shop bags? It's crazy to me."

Karen Read supporters
Outside Norfolk Superior Court, supporters held signs during the jury selection in the murder trial of Karen Read. Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

These two women represent a large portion of the local population who are hooked on this case. It's a different sect than those you see outside the Dedham courthouse each day of trial, members of the so-called "Free Karen Read'' movement. Many of those folks have used their PTO to skip work for the trial, spending days outside the court-ordered buffer zone with signs in support of Karen Read.

So, what is it that makes this case so appealing for so many? Three things, according to therapist Jeffrey Zeizel.

The "dark side" of our minds

"We all have a dark side that you don't see," Zeizel said. By watching the trial, "you have access to the dark side without feeling dirty or tainted or sociopathic," he said. 

"It's evolutionary psychology, where it's part of our nature to look at bad things. So even though we may find it morally reprehensible to be part of this terrible event, we give ourselves credit because we had nothing to do with it. So, we are allowed to watch terrible things and not feel guilty about watching it."

A desire to be a part of an online community of "investigators"

"There are some people who really believe that they are like criminal investigators or forensic psychologists," Zeizel explained. "And they are so smart. They are going to solve the crime."

The uniqueness - and demographics - of this defendant

Statistically, in 2022, only 12% of accused murderers were women. "We are interested in people who murder, but a woman who murders, that's even more interesting," Zeizel said. "So, I think that is a draw. But also, you can't help but notice she's educated, she's a professor, she has an appearance that looks like an attractive person. It's interesting because I think there's like this draw that it's like your next-door neighbor."

At the end of the day, Karen Read's innocence or acquittal rests in the hands of 17 jurors from Norfolk County, but that fact hasn't deterred thousands from weighing in with their thoughts online.

This case has been an introduction to "true crime" for some of the people who shared their stories with WBZ. For Julie Centrella, it's the second case she's been hooked on; the first was the Murdaugh Murders in South Carolina.

In the Read case, she believes there was a coverup by police. "I completely support the police, I have nothing against them," she explained. "If this woman could get framed for something she didn't do, it could really happen to anyone."

Pieri, while she is skeptical about inconsistencies in witness statements, says she hasn't made up her mind yet. "I'm holding my final judgment to the very end," she said.

If you have a question you'd like us to look into, please email   

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