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Netflix’s Trial 4: Who Killed John Mulligan?

November 11, 2020
6 min read

Netflix’s ‘Trial 4’ is a powerful documentary series that tackles not just a wrongful conviction but corruption and racial prejudice that prevails within the criminal justice system as well. This particular tale starts in 1993, when a Boston Police Detective John James Mulligan is found dead in his car while on duty. Subsequently, a thorough investigation is conducted.

In a shocking turn of events, the investigation is later found to be conflicting and exculpatory, allowing one of the convicted killers to be allowed a new trial after more than two decades. However, because of all this and new evidence, the one question that remains on our minds is who really killed the officer. So, here are all the details about the case!

How Did John Mulligan Die?

On the night of September 25, 1993, or you can say the morning of September 26, Detective John James Mulligan was doing a paid police detail outside a 24/7 Walgreens Pharmacy in Roslindale on American Legion Highway, Boston, Massachusetts. He, an identified workaholic, was known to take up such duties to earn extra via overtime, so it was usual for him to be outside Walgreens at the time. At around 3:40 a.m. that night, an employee of the pharmacy, returning from break, saw that the detective seemed to be asleep in his car.

The Walgreens clerk then knocked on John’s window, hoping to wake him up. However, what they noticed next was blood on John’s face, making them immediately go inside and call 911. Emergency units arrived at the scene soon after, and the medical examiner ruled that John Mulligan had already passed away. But still, he was moved from his car and taken to a nearby hospital, where, at 4:18 a.m., he was officially pronounced dead.

John was shot to death, having five bullet wounds on his face – one between his eyes, three across his forehead, and one up his nose. It was as if the shooter was making a cross sign with the bullets. Thus, John’s death could only be determined as a cold-blooded homicide through and through. Because this was a cop-killing and John’s service weapon was also missing from his body, on September 27, a 65 people task force was formed to investigate the case.

Who Killed John Mulligan?

A few days after John’s death, the homicide unit of the Boston Police Department came across another case, a double murder, that of Tracy Brown and Celine Kirk. While they were investigating that and interviewing those close to them, they found Sean K. Ellis, their cousin, who, during his interrogation, admitted to being at Walgreens buying diapers for Tracy on the night of John’s murder. Of course, this made him a suspect. Sean had given the officer-in-charge the name of the man who had driven him there, Terry L. Patterson, and he was questioned as well.

Soon, the two young Black males were arrested for the murder of John Mulligan. Tracy and Celine were killed by the latter’s then-boyfriend, who confessed. Sean and Terry’s indictments were backed by quite a few things that seemed like more than enough at the time. During Terry’s interrogation, apparently, when asked by an officer if it was Sean who pulled the trigger to kill John, he nodded his head as if to say yes. This was refuted by his lawyer, who was present at the scene, but it was an implication nonetheless.

Furthermore, Terry’s fingerprints were on John’s car’s window, and Sean’s uncle told detectives that Sean had hidden two guns, given to him by Terry, in the vacant lot across from his place. He also clearly mentioned that Sean didn’t kill anyone. The guns were recovered from that exact location, and they proved to be John’s missing firearm and the murder weapon. With all this, Sean and Terry went on trial, with the latter getting convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery in one go.

On the other hand, Sean faced two mistrials in 1995 before being convicted of the same charges after the third one transpired that same year. The problem in the first two was that none of the evidence or testimonies could convince the jury for sure that Sean committed the crimes. In the third trial, Sean’s uncle was not asked to testify. Therefore, Sean and Terry were sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

However, as time went on, evidence of the officers involved in this case being corrupt came to light, which raised questions about whether or not the two men received a fair trial. Subsequently, when it was discovered that John Mulligan was corrupt as well, and was a part of the schemes that were hatched by the one’s handling his case, who, we should mention, were drug cops, not homicide detectives, a judge granted Sean a re-trial. The Supreme Judicial Court, Massachusetts’ highest appellate court, upheld this decision.

By examinations conducted by Sean’s defense team, it can be said that there is a possibility that Detective John Mulligan was killed because of his dirty ways. There was an allegation that a cop named Ray Armstead Senior killed John because he made inappropriate advances towards the former’s 14-year-old daughter, which was backed by details of where and how it happened. But the named officer denied all claims. Then, there was something suspicious about John’s cell phone and how it had been wiped clean when it was found.

Despite this, though, it came to light that the last person he called was a barely legal girl by the name of Michelle “Misti” Hagar. She revealed that she serviced him sexually from time to time in exchange for drugs, but that night, as she was busy, she sent her friend “Bunny” to him. “Bunny” apparently went to Walgreen’s with a guy called “One Eyed Mr. C,” who killed John while Bunny was going down on him because he was tired of the cop using his power to harass and blackmail the small-time drug dealers in his area.

This theory only adds fuel to the rumors that John had his pants around his ankles when his body was found. However, as “One Eyed Mr. C” was murdered in 2005 and there is no concrete proof of his involvement or anyone else’s, Sean Ellis and Terry Patterson remain the only ones to have been convicted of Detective John Mulligan’s 1993 slaying.

Read More: Where Is Trial 4’s Sean Ellis Now?

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