Deirdre Nikoras sat in the front row of the downtown courtroom, craning her neck to see the face of the teenager who police say killed her brother.
Instead she saw the heart of the defence, as 17-year-old John Graham stood in the hallway, out of view, while magistrate Gary Wilson asked him to respond to a charge of first-degree murder in the shooting of Ciaran Conneely.
“Not guilty,’’ John Graham, heard but unseen, replied from the hallway.
When Ciaran Conneely arrived here 12 years ago from one of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland, his American friends dubbed him Kiwi because that’s what his name sounded like to Dorchester ears. He was a gentle fellow who worked construction and lived the immigrant’s dilemma, loving America, missing the family he left back home.
Kiwi Conneely, 36, spent the last day of his life, October 9, surrounded by friends in Adams Village, at an Irish heritage festival. He spent the last night of his life surrounded by friends at The Bunker, the bar in the basement of the American Legion Post on Gallivan Boulevard. But he died alone, on the sidewalk, a five-minute walk up Adams Street from all that he held dear.
Assistant Suffolk District Attorney Ian Polumbaum said John Graham was 16 years old and carrying a gun when he tried to rob Kiwi outside Kiwi’s Nahant Avenue apartment building. Neighbors heard a bang just after midnight.
Three weeks later, Polumbaum said, two young men, one of them 18, the other 20, were walking on Monsignor Lydon Way, less than a mile from where Kiwi was shot, when they were approached from behind by someone who pointed a gun and ordered them to empty their pockets.
“They thought the weapon was fake and refused,’’ he said.
The gun was very real, and they were shot. One of them nearly died.
The break in the case came when Boston police ballisticians compared the bullets taken from those young men and the one from Kiwi’s chest. They came from the same gun.
Homicide cops led by Sergeant Detective Jimmy Wyse got statements from people who said Graham implicated himself in Kiwi’s murder and the other shooting, statements that indicate that young John Graham is very good at shooting people but not so good at robbing them. Polumbaum said there’s video surveillance linking Graham to the Lydon Way shooting.
Graham’s lawyer, Randy Gioia, kept his client out of public view, saying identification will be key to the case. He said no one saw his client shoot anyone and that Graham denies shooting or trying to rob anyone.
Jim Wyse, who worked night and day on this, shook the hands of Kiwi’s friends who showed up at court, some of them co-workers who gave up a day’s wages to be there for a family that was 3,000 miles away on Inis Meain, where Kiwi is buried.
It wasn’t even two years ago that Wyse was in the same courthouse, shaking hands of the friends of Richel Nova, a Dominican immigrant and deliveryman who was shot to death for some hot pizza and cold cash. It’s the flip side of a cynical stereotype, the industrious immigrant killed by those who would rather steal than work.
John Graham was ordered held without bail. He covered his face and scurried up a staircase in the hallway outside Courtroom 705.
If Graham is more than 5 feet tall, he’s not much more than that.
Outside the courtroom, Deirdre Nikoras remarked on the figure she saw for a fleeting second.
“He’s so small,’’ she said.
Everyone nodded, and then one of the guys who worked with Kiwi said in an accent as thick as the rocky, russet land where Kiwi will lie forever, “He’s big enough to kill a man.’’