Karen Read Mistrial Adds Fuel to the Fire in Boston’s True-Crime Thriller

Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty
Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

On a snowy early morning in January 2022, Boston police officer John O’Keefe was found on a colleague's front lawn, unconscious, with signs of hypothermia, and a severe head injury, just six hours after he’d been out drinking at a bar with friends.

On Monday, two-and-a-half years after his death unleashed a slew of conspiracy theories and finger-pointing, jurors were sensationally deadlocked on whether his girlfriend Karen Read killed him. The judge’s declaration of a mistrial is likely to pour fuel on the fire of a true-crime phenomenon that has divided the small town of Canton on Boston’s outskirts.

“Despite our rigorous efforts we continue to find ourselves at an impasse,” the jury foreman wrote in a note to the judge on Monday after five days of deliberation. “Our perspectives on the evidence are starkly divided. Some members of the jury firmly believe that the evidence surpasses the burden of proof, establishing the elements of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Conversely, others find the evidence fails to meet this standard and does not sufficiently establish the necessary elements of the charges.

“The deep division is not due to a lack of effort or diligence but rather a sincere adherence to our individual principles and moral convictions. To continue to deliberate would be futile and only force us to compromise these deeply held beliefs.”

In declaring a mistrial, Judge Beverly Cannone told the jury, “I’m not going to do that to you folks. Your service is complete and I’m declaring a mistrial.” A status hearing was set for July 22, and prosecutors will have to decide whether to re-try Read.

The case centered around whether, as prosecutors argued, Read, 44, drunkenly rammed into her boyfriend with her SUV and left him for dead in a blizzard. Or, as Read’s defense team argued, she was the victim of an elaborate police cover-up after a group of O’Keefe’s colleagues beat him up, set a dog on him, then left him for dead and pinned the blame on Read.

It has spurred protest marches in Canton, pink “Free Karen Read” merchandise, allegations of police misconduct, rabid coverage from online sleuths, and even criminal charges against a blogger who allegedly harassed prosecution witnesses.

And the competing narratives are likely to explode online after jurors in Norfolk Superior Court couldn’t reach a verdict on charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter while operating under the influencer, and leaving the scene of a crime.

This Accused Murderer Has Superfans Bankrolling Her Defense

During the two-month trial, 74 witnesses were called to shed light on exactly how O’Keefe went from a night out with friends to being found hours later with a bleeding forehead contusion and initial stages of frostbite.

Prosecutors said that Read backed her SUV into O’Keefe, a 16-year police veteran, while dropping him off at a cop after-party in the middle of a blizzard. The couple had gotten into an argument that night, during which Read had consumed nine drinks in three hours, prosecutor Adam Lally told jurors on Tuesday. As Read was driving away, she left O’Keefe an irate voicemail where she screamed, “John, I (expletive) hate you!”

“What the constellation of the facts and the evidence ineluctably demonstrate here is that the defendant drove her vehicle in reverse at 24.2 miles per hour for 62.5 feet, struck Mr. O’Keefe, causing those catastrophic head injuries, leaving him incapacitated and freezing him to death,” Lally said in closing arguments.

O’Keefe’s body was found at 6 a.m. the following morning, and first responders said that, when they arrived, Read was frantically running around with blood on her face after trying to give her boyfriend CPR.

“The only response I personally was given was just, ‘I hit him, I hit him. Oh my God, I hit him,’” Canton Firefighter Anthony Flematti testified. “She just repeated the phrase over and over again. ‘I hit him, I hit him.’”

“She seemed to be the one that was the most personally affected by it. She was the most distressed on scene,” he added.

But defense lawyers and Read’s coterie of staunch supporters, many of whom became daily fixtures outside the courthouse in matching pink clothing, claimed she was the victim of a sinister scheme.

Defense attorney Alan Jackson argued that O’Keefe’s injuries were more consistent with him being fatally beaten, attacked by a dog, and left outside to die after Read dropped him off. A retired forensic pathologist and former chief medical examiner testified that O’Keefe had scratches on his arm and that he sustained bruising that suggested more trauma than just being hit by a car. Other defense witnesses also noted that Read's car, which had a broken taillight, had damage that did not match O’Keefe’s injuries.

Karen Read Was ‘Seething’ After Killing Cop Boyfriend, Prosecutor Says

“Pick your patsy and pin it on the girl,” Jackson said about the investigators who pinned the blame on Read. He described Read, a former financial services professional and college lecturer, as a “convenient outsider” from the law enforcement circle allegedly responsible for O’Keefe’s death.

Throughout the salacious case, Read’s supporters went out of their way to make sure she had the support and help to fight what they believed were bogus charges. Hundreds showed up to court daily in“Free Karen Read” apparel and with signs, even after a judge ordered a buffer zone of 200 feet away from the courthouse.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s raining, or snowing. They stand out there all day,” Jon Silva, a longtime friend of Read’s who is an administrator of a 51,000-deep Facebook group in support of her, previously told The Daily Beast. “The courthouse parking lot is always packed—one group even has a small grill out there cooking hotdogs and hamburgers at lunchtime, like a tailgate.”

Another staple at the courthouse was controversial blogger Aiden Kearney, known as Turtleboy. In videos after Read’s arrest, Kearney repeatedly proclaimed her innocence and called out inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case and evidence.

Kearney then became embroiled in a legal drama of his own, pleading not guilty to charges that he allegedly harassed witnesses in Read’s case and obtained confidential information while reporting on the saga. Kearney has claimed he is protected under the First Amendment.

His outrage and suspicion, however, was so influential that it attracted the attention of Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey who released an August 2023 response video. “The harassment of witnesses in the murder prosecution of Karen Read is absolutely baseless,” he said. “It should be an outrage to any decent person, and it needs to stop. Innuendo is not evidence. False narratives are not evidence.”

Meanwhile, as the dramatic trial drew to a close, Read’s defense attorneys told jurors they were “the only thing standing between Karen Read and the tyranny of injustice.” “Your job is to make sure you don’t ever ever look the other away,” Jackson said.

While the jury’s work in the high profile may be done, there are plenty of muckrakers who have vowed to take the baton and not look away.

“I felt like she could have been me. I know that wrongful arrests happen all the time but I immediately felt drawn to Karen—because if roles were reversed I would hope someone would help me,” Meghan Kirb, who is the wife of a Massachusetts cop who also regularly published daily discussion posts on the pro-Read Facebook group, previously told The Daily Beast.

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