SALEM, Massachusetts — On March 24, 2017, Salem police Patrolman Wes Regan pulled Brian Brito over on Highland Avenue. The citation from the stop documented that he was driving 55 mph in a 35 mph zone.
When looking over the vehicle, Regan noted that all four windows of Brito's Audi were intact.
Three days later, late on March 27, after a be-on-the-lookout warning in Lynn put Brito's New Hampshire license plate on the mind of every police officer in the area, two state police troopers spotted the car on Route 1 in Peabody. They pulled it over without incident, and noticed that the front passenger window "appeared to be down." Later, it was determined to have been shot out, and Brito was arrested carrying a 9-millimeter handgun, a magazine to go with it, and a box of ammunition.
They also found in the front passenger area a black ski mask, gloves, and a backpack full of scratch tickets and cash that had just been taken from a Richdale's convenience store in North Andover. At the time, North Andover police were processing the scene of a sexual assault and armed robbery, from which the victim was taken by family to Lawrence General Hospital.
That victim was the focus of most of the second day of testimony in Brito's trial. Brito's admitted involvement but pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to a series of crimes in three separate incidents on March 25 and 27, 2017. He's also accused by police of shooting two women sitting in an idle car in Lawrence on March 25, which witness testimony has indicated was the reason for the missing passenger window.
The first day of testimony, held Monday, focused on the murder of Mohammedreza "Sina" Zangiband, a 24-year-old Salem man who was delivering food for Atha's Roast Beef in Lynn when Brito, prosecutors allege, boxed Zangiband's car in and shot him multiple times late in the afternoon of March 27.
Sexual assault victim testifies
The robbery and sexual assaults at Richdale's convenience store in North Andover took place about five hours after Zangiband's death and were the primary focus of Tuesday's session. That included testimony from the store clerk working the Richdale's alone when, prosecutors have alleged, Brito entered wearing a mask and gloves and brandishing a handgun. The Salem News is withholding the name of the victim to protect their identity.
"The register area has a glass window area. So even though there's a bunch of tobacco blocking the view, I can generally see someone approaching. I'll just get random shadows I can see," the clerk said. "I was on my phone... It was a slow day, so I was probably reading comics. I got up, got to the register, and greeted a customer — and found the customer was unusual. They had a face mask on and were holding a gun pointed at me."
Multiple times, the person asked if anyone was in the store. The masked person also asked the clerk if they were lying, they testified.
"I'm trying to recall what happened first, or after. Either the lights turn off, or the wrists get tied," the victim said, retelling the scene. "He directed me to tie myself, my hands together. He was giving me what looked like an Apple charger."
The situation became confusing from there, prompting at times difficult questions from Brito's defense lawyer, John "Jack" Cunha. In several instances, the clerk had to help Brito — suggesting he lock the door and turn the lights out were two examples, and when he couldn't find the switches to control the lights, the victim had to turn the lights out for him.
"I believe he asked me what time the building closed, and I told him it closed at 11, but if we turn the lights off, customers will think we're closed early for the day and they won't enter," the clerk said. "He seemed very concerned, from the point of literally him entering the building, if there was other people involved. I figured I would keep him from panicking and... honestly, (it was) kind of damage control. We don't need more people in the situation."
Brito, prosecutors have alleged, sexually assaulted the clerk in an employees-only area. That included two points of penetration, which left the victim dealing with injuries for a month after.
Brito then left the employees-only area and began rummaging around in the front, by the registers and display cases full of scratch tickets. At one point, he sought help accessing a below-counter cash box, requiring the still-naked clerk to move through the store in a concealed fashion, as to not be seen by anyone outside.
"I went to the back room (after). I believe I asked him if I could put a little clothing back on. He said yeah," the clerk said. "I know he said something to me, and I'm trying to recall if it was that time, or later when he's leaving the counter area. He makes a comment about thanking me for 'making it easy for him, because he had to kill somebody earlier in the day.' I don't recall what I said in response."
During cross examination, Cunha repeatedly highlighted on the victim's efforts to help Brito through the crimes he was committing. That included a suggestion during the sexual assault, which was made during a point of confusion on Brito's part about which manner he was penetrating her. Cunha referenced the victim "asking" to make a change in penetration, prompting them to harshly indicate that "there wasn't consent."
"I'd sure prefer not to go through that pain," the victim said.
Later, the exchange between Cunha and the victim focused on Brito admitting that he "had to kill somebody," during which he was presumed to be referencing Zangiband.
"So you understand that had to mean he was 'forced' to kill somebody," Cunha asked the sexual assault victim.
"I never took it as such," they said. "I took his words as he escalated something. He probably didn't need to."
"That was all in your head, wasn't it," Cunha responded.
"I guess in one sense... I did make my impressions," the victim said. "But the fact that somebody says they killed someone earlier in the day, and they're pointing a gun at you and committing a crime then and there... I didn't take the words lightly."
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