'Trial 4': Who was Chuck Stuart? Meet Boston man who murdered wife and falsely claimed Black man attacked them
Netflix's latest docuseries, 'Trial 4', is about the four trials that Sean Ellis had to go through. Ellis was just 19 years old when he was wrongfully convicted of murdering Boston Police Department's Detective John Mulligan. The eight-part docuseries will feature Sean Ellis as he faces his fourth trial — 25 years after he was first tried in 1995 — as he may end up going back to prison. Ellis had been previously sentenced to life and was released when new evidence came to light.
It also helps to understand the atmosphere in Boston in the early 1990s, just a few years after the much-publicized murder of a White woman, Carol Stuart. At the time, racial tension in Boston and the encompassing Suffolk County was high. Newspapers often carried stories of rising crime, especially in Black neighborhoods. It was at the height of this that the news of Carol's murder came to light in October 1989. Her husband, Charles "Chuck" Stuart told officers that a Black man in a suit with a raspy voice forced his way into their car at a stoplight while the couple was driving through the Roxbury neighborhood after a childbirth class — Carol, a lawyer, was seven months pregnant at the time of her death. Charles claimed that the Black assailant then robbed them, shot him in the stomach and Carol in the head.
The crime was the biggest story in Boston that day and all around the country, the story was portrayed as an example of what could happen to affluent people traveling through bad neighborhoods. In many papers, liberal policies were attacked and held responsible for the tragedy. Carol died, and although doctors were able to save her baby temporarily, the child also died days later. Charles underwent intestinal surgery for 10 hours, but his life was not endangered.
The truth was, of course, far from what Charles had claimed. After his wife was shot, Charles drove through the neighborhood and called the police, screaming that his wife had been shot. The incident is mentioned in 'Trial 4' because it paints a clear picture of what the Boston Police Department was like at that time. The police were filled with rampant racism and there had been many complaints against officers claiming the same. Because Charles claimed that a Black man had killed his wife, the Boston police explored no other avenue which means they missed key facts about how the Stuarts' marriage was crumbling and how Charles oddly started paying attention to a female colleague just after his wife's death, asking the colleague to call on him at the hospital.
Boston police searched for suspects matching Charles' description of the assailant and suspected a man named Willie Bennett. On December 28, 1989, Charles picked him out of a lineup that consisted of otherwise clean-cut Boston police officers. It was at this point that Charles's brother, Matthew could no longer hold in the guilt of what truly happened. Matthew went to the police and confessed that it was his brother, Charles himself, who murdered Carol and their baby. Matthew told the police that he had helped his brother when he ran away from the crime scene with the murder weapon and the Stuarts' valuables to make it look like a robbery-homicide.
Police later learned that Charles had been interested in (but allegedly not involved with) an intern at the fur salon and was also having financial difficulties. In January 1990, after Matthew's confession, Charles died by suicide after he leaped to his death from the Tobin Bridge, in Chelsea, Massachusetts. A note was found in Charles' car, stating that he could not deal with the allegations against him.
The outcome of the case had major repercussions. Soon after, The Boston Globe's award-winning Spotlight team (the same team that uncovered the widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests) released a special investigative series into the deficiencies of the Boston Police Department. Suffolk County's District Attorney at the time, Newman Flanagan (who had been in the position since 1979), stepped down, leading to Ralph C Martin II, becoming the first Black District Attorney for the county.
'Trial 4' is now streaming on Netflix.