‘There’s really no winners here today’: Former Greenfield police sergeant found guilty of vehicular homicide

  • Defendant James Rode, right, and his attorney Kevin Reddington during his negligent vehicular homicide trial in Greenfield District Court on Friday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Former Greenfield Police Sgt. James B. Rode, center, stands next to attorney Kevin Reddington, to his left, in Greenfield District Court on Monday as the jury prepares to announce its verdict in Rode’s vehicular homicide trial. Rode was found guilty. STAFF Photo/DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer
Published: 1/27/2020 11:23:22 AM

GREENFIELD — Former Greenfield Police Sgt. James B. Rode was sentenced to two years behind bars after being found guilty of vehicular homicide stemming from a 2017 fatal incident.

Rode, 50, will serve nine months, with 15 months to be suspended, meaning Rode will be ordered to comply with certain probation requirements or risk being returned to jail.

Judge Lynn Connly granted the request of Rode’s attorney, Kevin Reddington, to have Rode serve his sentence at the Dukes County Jail and House of Correction on Martha’s Vineyard. Reddington’s rationale was that Rode’s life might be in danger in a jail in the county where he served as a police officer. Rode has been terminated by the Greenfield Police Department, but has filed an appeal to challenge the decision.

According to a Massachusetts State Police report, Rode was driving south on High Street in Greenfield shortly after 8 p.m. in response to a call of an erratic operator Oct. 1, 2017, when the police cruiser he was operating collided with a westbound 2010 Subaru Impreza driven by James Arcellana, 29, of Hinsdale, N.H. Arcellana died three days later of blunt force trauma to the head.

Rode was driving 83 mph in a 30-mph zone.

The Greenfield District Court jury delivered its verdict at around 10:30 a.m. on Monday. Court went into recess until around noon, when Arcellana’s mother, Merlinda Gabrino, read an impact statement. Then, the court again recessed until shortly before 1 p.m. so Connly could decide on a sentence.

Those who showed up to court in support of Rode began to cry and console one another when the jury’s verdict was announced. Rode’s supporters sat in virtual silence until a court officer said the judge would reconvene at 11:45 a.m.

While reading her impact statement, Gabrino fought back tears as she described in excruciating detail the effect Arcellana’s death has had on her family. She explained the gut-wrenching choice to take her son off life support when he was officially brain dead.

“I sincerely hope no one has to make … a decision of that magnitude,” Gabrino said before Connly, adding that more pain and trauma was brought onto the family after reading the State Police report that stated Rode had acted negligently. “His negligent action has caused our family to lose trust in local law enforcement. We believe law enforcement needs to be held to higher standards due to the power this job grants.”

Gabrino asked Connly for the maximum sentence, though she mentioned Rode will eventually be released to his family, whereas her son is gone forever.

“(Rode) will have the opportunity to continue living his life, embracing his wife and children again and enjoying them,” Gabrino read. “Our loved one, James, will never have the same opportunity.”

She went on to describe her son as a kind and giving person who had enormous potential. She also said Arcellana has a 16-month-old daughter and he will never get to meet his niece.

“There is a hole in the family where James once stood,” Gabrino said.

First Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne, who was prosecuting the case, recommended a sentence of 2½ years with a year served and 18 months suspended, as well as 100 hours of annual community service after release.

Gagne explained Rode had been involved in several accidents before he was employed by the Greenfield Police Department — in 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1999. He said Rode was also involved in a few accidents during his employment from 2004 to 2017.

Reddington, who first thanked Connly for “an orderly and quite frankly fair trial,” said Gagne’s recommendation was reckless and that the prosecutor was misrepresenting those incidents, arguing that one occurred while Rode was rushing to help a sergeant who requested help in a March 2005 snowstorm, and another happened in a rainstorm and resulted in no damage to the police cruiser.

“This is not a jail case,” Reddington told Connly. “There is no need to place Mr. Rode in jail.”

When she returned from the second recess, Connly said these types of cases are the most difficult to hear.

“We can’t bring James (Arcellana) back,” she said, choking up a few times as she spoke. “I am truly sorry for the loss that night.”

Rode’s supporters again reacted with grief as Connly announced her decision. The judge denied Reddington’s request to stay the execution of the sentence until the conclusion of Rode’s termination appeal. Gagne argued that could take up to two years, and the accident occurred 27 months ago.

A court officer handcuffed Rode and led him out of the courtroom as his supporters looked on in tears and, seemingly, in shock.

“There’s really no winners here today,” Gagne said, calling the sentencing “the end of a very tragic case for everyone involved.”

Rode was arraigned in July 2018. Jury selection and opening statements were completed last Tuesday. After a one-day hiatus, the trial resumed Thursday, with the prosecution making its entire case that day. The defense followed the next day.

Jurors entered deliberation for about a half-hour Friday before Connly released them for the weekend at 4:30 p.m., telling them to return Monday morning. The jurors deliberated roughly two hours Monday morning before the verdict was announced.

Eight jurors sat through the trial and two of them were randomly selected as alternates before they entered deliberation following the parties’ closing arguments on Friday. The six jurors consisted of four women and two men.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 262.


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