In Commonwealth v. Holley the SJC arrirmed the defendant’s conviction of first-degree murder, and declined to order the suppression of inculpatory statements made by the defendant to the police shortly after the incident in question during which the victim sustained fatal burns. “That the defendant was in some way responsible for the flames which engulfed the victim was not an issue at trial; the central issue … was whether the burning was intentional or accidental. The Commonwealth maintained that the defendant deliberately doused the victim with gasoline in her apartment and set her on fire; the defendant claimed that he had a cigarette in his mouth when the victim threw gasoline on him, the cigarette ignited the gasoline, and the fire jumped from him onto the victim’s nightgown.” The evidence was as follows; Shortly after the fire started, the defendant left the apartment and encountered police officers nearby. The officers “saw the defendant walking toward them, with his hands in the air, saying a number of times, ‘I’m right here. I’m the one that started the fire. I’m the one you’re looking for.’” The defendant also stated that “someone at the scene of the fire was badly burned and needed help.” “The officers noticed that the defendant’s hands and face were seriously burned…. He was walking slowly … and was in evident pain…. He said repeatedly, ‘I didn’t mean to hurt anybody.’ While the defendant was being frisked for weapons, one of the officers found … a book of matches in a pocket of the defendant’s pants. The officer held the matches up to show them to the other officers, saying, ‘Look what I found,’ and the defendant responded, ‘That’s what I used to start the fire.’” After he was given the Miranda warnings, the defendant “repeated a number of times that he had not meant to start the fire and had not meant to hurt anyone. When he continued to speak, an officer told him to stop talking. The defendant … said a number of times that his legs were badly burned, he was in pain, and he wanted medical attention. After officers told him that an ambulance had been summoned, the defendant asked a number of times when it would arrive…. As the defendant was being taken to the ambulance, one of the officers remarked that the defendant smelled of gasoline, and the defendant … said, ‘That’s what I used.’” The medical evidence indicated that in addition to sustaining serious, painful burns, the defendant “had inhaled toxic fumes, including carbon monoxide and cyanide,” which could have impaired his reasoning; that his blood alcohol level was .115; and that testing of his urine revealed the presence of marijuana. The defendant moved unsuccessfully to suppress his statements on the ground that they were involuntary. He “argued that he was intoxicated from alcohol and marijuana, that he was confused and in an ‘altered’ mental state due to carbon monoxide inhalation from the fire,” and that his mental functioning was severely impaired “because he was in extraordinary pain from second and third degree burns and smoke inhalation injuries.”

In affirming the judge’s denial of the motion to suppress, the SJC “discerned no error in the … judge’s conclusion that, notwithstanding [the defendant’s] serious injuries and his consumption of intoxicants, he … spoke voluntarily to police, continuing to talk despite their statements that he should stop talking. The defendant’s coherent and appropriate responses to medical personnel, his evident understanding that the victim had been seriously injured and his efforts to get help for her, and his statements to police about the fire and his own injuries indicate a rational understanding of the situation and a voluntary decision to speak to police.”