Beyond the Mistrial and Retrial

Turtle Boy leaving the courtroom.
Photo: Boston Globe via Getty Images

On Monday, more than two years after the suspicious incident that left her boyfriend, the police officer John O’Keefe, dead in the snow, a Massachusetts judge declared a mistrial in the second-degree murder case against Karen Read. For many reasons, the trial has captivated true-crime rubberneckers far beyond suburban Canton, Mass. A telegenic defendant in a rocky relationship; a town’s police officials accused of an alleged cover-up; destroyed evidence by a federal agent; a federal investigation into the local police investigation; all that and a symphony of Boston accents arguing on Court TV.

Deep inside this circus is a blogger named Aidan Kearney, known as Turtleboy (imagine Dave Portnoy if he found a passion for true crime). For the past two years, Kearney has devoted his life to covering the trial in an unorthodox manner, which includes many exchanges with the defendant, a a steadfast belief in her innocence, and a confrontation of a key player in the trial at her child’s lacrosse game. (He also made merch.) Kearney has become a part of the trial so much that he has gotten a trial of his own. Last October, he was charged with multiple counts of witness intimidation and picketing a witness; earlier this year, he did 60 days in jail after a judge revoked his bail. He has denied all wrongdoing, citing First Amendment rights.

Hours after the mistrial was declared, I spoke with Kearney to better understand his role in the saga, its effect in suburban Massachusetts, and his unusual approach to digital media.

You’ve spent two years of your life obsessing over this. How does it feel that it’s technically over?
It’s not even close to over, unfortunately. But it feels bittersweet, bordering on shitty, I guess, because this is an open and shut case, man. It is sad about the jury system where we live in a society where people this dumb can be on juries to decide the fate of other people and they are happy and willing to vote guilty.

What was it like inside of the courtroom today when it was declared a mistrial?
Several members of John’s family cried. Karen’s team seemed happy that she wasn’t convicted. I would say more like relieved is the best way word to describe it. But then, lo and behold, 10 minutes later they announced they’re going to try it again. I mean, these people are just ruthless. They’re shameless. It’s disgusting how much they’re willing to expend on this.

What are your plans if there’s a retrial?
We’re not going anywhere. I mean, we’re seeing this all the way through. We’re going to continue to protest. We’re going to continue to cover this story. I have my own side charges, if you will, that I’ve gotten as a result of my coverage of this case that I have to deal with. I have a hearing for that on July 11.

It’s a pretrial hearing to go over evidence that they’re supposed to have given us. They have not given us a whole bunch of discovery. I still don’t know what I’ve been indicted for on a number of these charges because they’re just ignoring court orders to hand over charging documents and bills of particulars showing exactly what they’re even alleging I’ve done.

How much did you know aobut the legal process before this trial? And what is your takeaway now?
I watched a lot of SVUbut I understood the basics that everybody else did. Objection. Sustained. Plaintiff. Defendant. Discovery. But I definitely learned a lot watching this trial about how much influence a judge can have on a case. The fundamental weakness of the jury system is really just what I took away from this, how we live in a society where just people this dumb can decide the fate of others.

I’m from a town not too far from Canton and all I kept overhearing people talking about the case. (“If they got in a drunk fight, then it isn’t murda.”) Growing up in the area, I feel like there was a was a strong sense of trust in the police in the community. Do you think that has changed in Canton?
I mean, they voted to audit the police, and that’s an unprecedented move for a cop town. But there’s plenty of law enforcement supporters like myself who traditionally backed the blue and are disgusted with the way that the police handled this case.

There’s the idea in journalism that someone shouldn’t become part of the story or that they shouldn’t be too far of an advocate. I was wondering where journalism and activism collide for you with this story?
I wear three hats. I wear the journalist hat, the activist hat, and the entertainer-satirist hat. And traditionally, yeah, you’re right. Most journalists don’t wear all three, but I do, and I can switch hats whenever I want. I feel passionate about this case. So it’s not for me to just report on what’s happening. I feel motivated to get out there and to protest, to raise awareness. And I can’t pretend that I see both sides here when I see one side is clearly in the wrong and as all the facts going against them. And the other side is goodness on their side and has all the facts that support everything that they’re saying.

How would you describe Karen Read as a person?
I never had gotten a chance to know the real Karen Reed. I only know indicted Karen Reed. You don’t really know a person, I feel like, until they don’t have impending murder charges against them. So I only know a person who is dealing with a lot of stress constantly, so you know what I mean? I feel like I don’t know her until these charges are gone. I know a person right now who’s extremely worried, very confident, and very smart.

What has your lawyer’s advice been to you?
I have a very hands-off lawyer. His thing is like, You do your thing. I’m never going to tell you ‘I’m in a unique position where lawyers usually tell their clients, shut up and don’t talk.’ But I talk for a living and my lawyer trusts me. He trusts my judgment.

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