Ana Walshe

Intense Public Scrutiny of the Ana Walshe Case Will Challenge Attorneys on Both Sides, Expert Says

Ana Walshe, a 39-year-old mother from Cohasset, Massachusetts, has not been seen or heard from since Jan. 1. Her husband Brian Walshe has been charged with her murder

NBC Universal, Inc.

The disappearance of Cohasset, Massachusetts, mother Ana Walshe has grabbed headlines and public attention for weeks. Her husband, Brian Walshe, has been charged in her murder, and some details of the case against him came out during his arraignment on Jan. 18, but there are many unanswered questions.

While it took just a few weeks for investigators to build the case for a murder charge, the legal process will be much longer, said professor Chris Dearborn, director of the Suffolk Defenders Program at Suffolk University and a criminal defense attorney.

“I think they dedicated a lot of resources in a very short period of time to try to put together a fairly significant circumstantial case to start out with. And it doesn't mean they're not going to keep investigating. In fact, we still have to go through the grand jury process, which can either be just a presentment of evidence or also an investigative tool to find out more information,” he explained.

In the arraignment, prosecutors laid out disturbing allegations, including that Brian dismembered Ana’s body and discarded it. Brian Walshe pleaded not guilty in court last week.

A body has not been found, meaning right now the case relies on DNA connections and circumstantial evidence, including a list of shocking Google searches Brian Walshe allegedly made.

To have a murder charge without a body is not unprecedented in Massachusetts, especially with the kind of evidence that's being presented, NBC News has reported.

While not having a body is not ideal for prosecutors, Dearborn said that, based on what information has been made public, it seems that investigators are confident in the case they’re building: "You have to remember that forensic science and all sorts of technology has advanced so much in recent years that there's a lot more tools in the toolbox for law enforcement and prosecutors to build a case in different ways. And so there's there is an extraordinary amount of arguably compelling circumstantial evidence in this case that I think gave rise to the charges.”

"It really does paint a very bad picture for Brian Walshe as far as this case goes," Retired FBI Agent Ken Gray said. "And it is the reason why, in my opinion, that they are able to go forward with this murder trial, is that the combination of the searches and the forensic evidence that they have found make up for the loss of a body.”

There has also been scrutiny of Brian Walshe’s past, including a 2014 police report where Ana Walshe claimed he had threatened to kill her, a recent guilty plea in a federal art fraud case and a dispute over his father’s will that led to a contentious probate case.

The attorneys on both sides will have to address the information. Past incidents can be brought into a trial in certain circumstances, though it’s something a defense would try to keep out, Dearborn said.

“We call that bad actor misconduct evidence. And the general rule is we don't like to have that come into a trial because we want the jurors to decide this incident based on this incident, not something that necessarily happened in the past, except for the fact if it's relevant to motive or intention — those are some of the exceptions that allow that kind of evidence to come in. But it's really damaging prejudicial evidence nonetheless,” he explained.

With intense public interest and media attention on the case, Dearborn said it’s key to remember that every defendant has a right to a fair trial.

“It’s OK to be curious, even intensely curious. But to paraphrase Walt Whitman, please be curious and not judgmental until you know everything, because the last thing we want to do — we want everybody to have due process and fairness,” Dearborn said.

Massachusetts has a recent history of high-interest cases, including those of Whitey Bulger, Aaron Hernandez and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. In each, the issue of fairness arose. Dearborn said that during such high-profile cases, it’s highly likely that the defense would request a change of venue, but noted that it will still be really difficult to find a jury that hasn’t read into the case.

The Supreme Court ruled Friday to reimpose the death penalty for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

In the Tsarnaev case, the issue of a juror commenting on the case online is now central to an appeal to avoid the death penalty.

“My personal, biased opinion, I think it is incredibly challenging in a case like this for somebody to actually get a fair trial. I think it's virtually impossible to find somebody in the jury pool who doesn't know anything about the case and has formed an opinion,” Dearborn said.

What information ultimately gets presented to the jury can be a fierce struggle between the prosecution and defense in this kind of case. Dearborn explained that there will likely be two schools of thought on what information from his past should be included in court.

“If the cost of that is his current financial posture, his life maybe being in ruins or in a bad place, then maybe it's relevant to show why he took the conduct he did. If they're going to argue that being the recipient of insurance, for example, was part of the motivation," Dearborn said. "But aside from that ... I don't see any other connections. And so that battle will be fought. The lawyers will fight to argue it's inadmissible. And I'm sure that the prosecution will argue to include that evidence and argue that's relevant to the state of mind, his motive, his intentions, etc.”

If the case goes to trial, it will take some time. Dearborn said the pandemic has slowed down the process significantly – while a typical first-degree murder case in Massachusetts would have taken roughly two years in the past, it could now take closer to two to three years to run through the process to get to trial.

“Just I would say for everybody, you know, be kind to them, the victim’s family. And secondly, be patient and open-minded with the process and don't prejudge as much as you want to,” he said.

Contact Us