MIDDLEBORO — The state's supreme court has spoken: Michael Eagles, who was convicted of first-degree murder by means of extreme atrocity or cruelty, will not get a new trial.

Eagles and co-defendant Jeffrey Roberio were both sentenced to life in prison on the charges after they beat, strangled and killed 79-year-old Lewis Jennings in his home in July 1986.

Roberio, who was 17 at the time, has since been paroled — but Eagles, who was 20 years old at the time of the murder, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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Eagles had asked for a new trial based on recent findings that deem statistical comparisons of hair evidence — the kind of comparisons used as part of the evidence during his trial — unreliable.

But in a decision issued Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court stated that the hair comparison evidence was "not a real factor in the jury's deliberations," denying Eagles a retrial.

Jennings' murder took place at his trailer in Middleboro, which Roberio and Eagles intended to rob of cash.

On July 29, 1986, the pair drank alcohol and took cocaine and acid before getting a friend to drop them off near where Jennings lived, according to the decision.

The next day, Jennings' body was found. He had been beaten with a blunt force object and strangled with his own pillowcase, and had broken his spine and several other bones, according to the medical examiner.

Cash, a shotgun, and other personal property had been stolen from his home.

During Roberio and Eagles' trials, prosecutors argued that the men had arrived to rob the trailer only to find Jennings at home — so they cut the telephone line, entered the trailer and beat the victim.

They then tied a pillowcase around his neck and brought him from room to room to force him to tell them where he hid his money, according to prosecutors.

After they robbed him, the men left him either dead or nearly dead at the scene.

However, Eagles denied his involvement in the murder, stating that he merely acted as lookout for Roberio.

But the state supreme court noted in their decision that there was plenty of evidence (other than his hair) placing him inside the trailer — and that even if (as he claimed during the trial) he entered after Roberio beat Jennings, he still went along with the crime after the fact.

Evidence placing him at the murder scene included the victim's blood on Eagles' pants, shoes, shirt and hands as well as a bloody footprint on a pillowcase that matched Eagles' shoes.

Jennings also had several hairs in his hand and underneath his body.

Despite expert testimony on the statistical probability that the hairs belonged to Eagles, the SJC found that the problematic and "unreliable" hair comparison was not the deciding factor in Eagles' conviction.

"Here... there existed other substantial physical evidence linking the defendant to the crime," the justices wrote, ultimately deciding to uphold Eagles' conviction.

"I commend the SJC on their thoughtful decision to keep Michael Eagles in prison," Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz said.

"This was a particularly heinous and senseless murder, and my thoughts are with the Jennings family today."


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