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Who is Karen Read and why are some calling to "free" her?

What to know about the Karen Read murder trial in Massachusetts
What to know about the Karen Read murder trial in Massachusetts 20:11

BOSTON – The high-profile murder trial for Karen Read got underway in Massachusetts. So who is she, and why are her supports calling to "Free Karen Read"?

Who is Karen Read?

Read is a 45-year-old Massachusetts woman who is standing trial for allegedly hitting and killing her boyfriend, former Boston police officer John O'Keefe, with her SUV during a snowstorm in January 2022.

Read has pleaded not guilty to charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter while operating under the influence of alcohol, and leaving the scene of personal injury and death.

Attorneys for Read have argued that she is the victim of a coverup by several people, including law enforcement.

Karen Read appeared in Norfolk Superior Court for a motions hearing on March 20, 2024. Read is accused of murder in the death of her boyfriend, Boston Police Officer John O'Keefe.  Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Supporters for Read have gathered outside the courthouse during hearings throughout the months leading up to the trial, often wearing "Free Karen Read" shirts and holding signs. They must remain at least 200 feet from the courthouse in a "buffer zone" put in place by the judge in an effort to maintain an unbiased jury.

Massachusetts blogger Aidan Kearney, who writes under the name "Turtleboy" for the website "TB Daily News," has been a central figure among Read's supporters. 

Kearney was arrested on a host of charges involving alleged witness intimidation. Prosecutors allege that Read and Kearney spoke by phone nearly 200 times in 2023, and accuse her of sharing information about the case that was not yet public. Kearney denied any wrongdoing.

Boston Police Officer John O'Keefe. (Photo credit: Boston Police)

What happened to John O'Keefe?

O'Keefe was a Boston police officer who was dating Read.

The couple went out in Canton the night of January 28, 2022 with a group of friends. Read says she drove O'Keefe to the Canton home of Boston police officer Brian Albert. When O'Keefe did not return home and she couldn't reach him, Read and two other women went out to look for him.

The women found O'Keefe's body in a snowbank in front of Albert's home around 6 a.m. on January 29. Prosecutors say an allegedly intoxicated Read hit him with her SUV, while the defense argues O'Keefe went inside the home, was killed during a fight, and his body was brought outside and left in the snow.

Judge Beverly J. Cannone oversees a hearing in the Karen Read case at Norfolk Superior Court. Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Judge Beverly Cannone

Norfolk County Superior judge Beverly Cannone has overseen all proceedings in the Karen Read trial.

Cannone was appointed to the bench in 2014 by then-Gov. Deval Patrick.

In July 2023, defense attorneys attempted to get Cannone to recuse herself from the case. Prosecutors objected to the request. Cannone determined the evidence presented by the defense claiming Cannone could not be impartial was "not credible."

David Yannetti (left), Karen Read and Alan Jackson (right) leave Norfolk County Superior Court. Photo by Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

Who are the attorneys in the Karen Read trial?

David Yannetti and Alan Jackson are the lead attorneys representing Read. Tanis Yannetti, David's sister, was added to the team several months before trial. According to the Yannetti Criminal Defense Law Firm website, members of his firm have past experience as prosecutors as well.

Jackson is a California-based attorney from the firm Werksman Jackson & Quinn. He represented Kevin Spacey on Nantucket when the actor was accused of sexually assaulting a young man in 2016. Prosecutors eventually dropped the case against Spacey.

Elizabeth Little, a partner at Jackson's law firm, is also a member of Read's defense team.

Norfolk County Assistant District Attorney Adam Lally is the prosecutor in the case along with Assistant District Attorney Laura McLaughlin.

The U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts provided over 3,000 pages of documents about their investigation into the case, prompting the defense to file a motion to dismiss.

During court hearings, Read's defense team made accusations of prosecutorial misconduct.  Cannone denied the motion to dismiss the charges, and also denied a separate motion to sanction and disqualify the Norfolk District Attorney's office from the case.

Lally accused Read's defense team of "defense by obfuscation" and said the evidence shows that Read killed O'Keefe.

Others involved in the Karen Read trial

Trooper Michael Proctor was the lead investigator for the case with Massachusetts State Police. Defense attorneys allege that the federal investigation showed Proctor hid personal ties to people involved in Read's case.

In March, state police said they opened an internal investigation into "a potential violation of department policy" by Proctor. The trooper denied any wrongdoing in a statement released by his attorney. Proctor remains on full duty during the investigation.

Brian Albert, a member of the Boston Police Department, owned the home in Canton where O'Keefe's body was found in 2022. He was also at the Waterfall Bar and Grille in Canton, with the group that included Read, O'Keefe, and others. Albert was hosting a gathering for the group after they left the bar.

As part of their defense claiming that O'Keefe was killed during a fight inside Albert's house, Read's attorneys argued that injuries sustained by O'Keefe were caused by Albert's dog. Prosecutors say O'Keefe's injuries were caused by Read's SUV. Lally said in February that no dog DNA was found on O'Keefe's body or clothes.

During the final pretrial hearing in the case, Read's defense argued in court that Brian Albert, Colin Albert, and Brian Higgins could have killed O'Keefe. Read's attorneys are attempting to blame those men as part of a third-party culprit defense. Prosecutors deny the three had any involvement.

Defense attorneys focused on wounds to O'Keefe's arms, which they said showed he was attacked by  Brian Albert's dog during a fight. CBS Boston

Jennifer McCabe is Brian Albert's sister-in-law. She was at the Waterfall Bar and Grille with the group, and was one of two women with Read when she searched for and eventually found O'Keefe's body in the snow.

Google searches from McCabe's phone became a central part of pretrial hearings. Defense and prosecution agree that someone googled "hos (sic) long to die in cold," but the sides disagree what time the searches happened. The defense says the search was made before O'Keefe's body was found, while the prosecution argues the search was made after he was found in the snow.

Karen Read's murder trial got underway April 16, expected to last 6 to 8 weeks. Among the first witnesses called were first responders, some who said they heard Read say "I hit him."

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