Karen Read murder trial: What to know as jury deliberates in death of Boston police officer

Karen Read awaits the jury's verdict in her murder case in Massachusetts on June 26.
Karen Read awaits the jury's verdict on Wednesday. (Greg Derr/The Patriot Ledger via AP)

The jury is now deliberating in the case of Karen Read, a Boston-area woman who has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of her police officer boyfriend.

Read, 44, will soon face a verdict on whether she murdered John O'Keefe — who died in January 2022 — or if she was a victim of a cover-up concocted by law enforcement. She has pleaded not guilty.

Attention around the trial has swelled, captivating Tiktok audiences and true crime fans. Passionate groups have formed to support Read outside of the courthouse, and a local blogger even disrupted the proceedings. Here’s what to know about the case.

Who are Karen Read and John O’Keefe?

Read is a former equity analyst and adjunct professor at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. O’Keefe had been working as a Boston police officer for 16 years. The two had been dating for two years until O’Keefe’s death in January 2022.

What happened on the night of Jan. 28, 2022?

According to court testimonies reported by the Associated Press, Read and O’Keefe were out with friends the night of Jan. 28, 2022. Read allegedly dropped O’Keefe off at his friend’s house — another Boston police officer, Brian Albert — in Canton, Mass., for a party a little after midnight.

Early the next morning, O’Keefe was pronounced dead at a hospital with his autopsy listing his cause of death as hypothermia and blunt force trauma.

Supporters of Karen Read display signs to passing cars near Norfolk Superior Court on June 26.
Karen Read supporters hold signs to passing cars near Norfolk Superior Court in Dedham, Mass., on Wednesday. (Steven Senne/AP)

What is Karen Read charged with?

Read is charged with second-degree murder, which has a maximum penalty of life in prison. She was also charged with committing manslaughter under the influence of alcohol and fleeing a scene of personal injury and death. Manslaughter has a maximum penalty of five to 20 years in prison and fleeing the scene has a maximum penalty of 10 years.

What does the prosecution say happened?

The prosecution argued the couple were in a rocky relationship and the two fought before O’Keefe went into Albert’s house. The prosecution claimed that, in anger, Read intentionally backed over O’Keefe with her car before driving away — using her car’s vehicle data, its broken back taillight and hair found on the bumper as evidence to support this.

Prosecutors also had testimonies from several first responders who claimed they heard Read say, “I hit him. I hit him. Oh my God, I hit him.”

The prosecution also showed a voicemail Read allegedly left O’Keefe while departing Albert’s house. They told jurors that Read was “seething in rage” in the message and “screaming, ‘John, I f***ing hate you!’”

What does the defense say happened?

The defense says O’Keefe was beaten up by guests in Albert’s house, thrown outside and positioned in a way to make it look like he’d been hit by Read’s car.

“He was supposedly sprawled on that lawn, just feet from where these people were walking when they left the residence,” Read’s defense lawyer David Yannetti said in an opening statement. “Not one of these people saw John O’Keefe.”

Read’s defense lawyers said there was evidence of dog scratches on O’Keefe’s body that could have been from Albert’s German shepherd. The defense claimed Albert’s house was never properly searched for evidence of a fight and claimed the investigation was biased against Read because of the lead investigator in the case, Massachusetts State Police Trooper Michael Proctor.

Proctor acknowledged during his testimony that he had used derogatory language to refer to Read in messages with other troopers and made a “regrettable” and “unprofessional” joke about not finding any private photos while searching her phone.

Read more from NBC News: Lead investigator in Karen Read murder trial says his derogatory comments 'dehumanized' her

Who is Brian Higgins and how is he involved in all of this?

The defense highlighted a 22-second outgoing call between Albert and Brian Higgins, a friend and agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, that occurred around 2:30 a.m. on Jan. 29. Higgins dismissed the 22-second call as a “butt dial.”

Higgins was at Albert’s party earlier in the night and was seen on security footage interacting with Read and O’Keefe at one of the bars.

Karen Read sits in court with her legal team during her trial at Norfolk County Superior Court on June 20.
Karen Read sits in court with her legal team in June. (David McGlynn/The Patriot Ledger via AP, Pool)

The prosecution shared dozens of flirty texts between Read and Higgins from the weeks leading up to O’Keefe’s death.

"I'm not proud of these text messages, it is what it is, I take responsibility for them. But John was a friend at the same time,” Higgins testified.

Who is Jennifer McCabe and how is she involved?

McCabe is Albert’s sister-in-law and was both out drinking the night of Jan. 28 and at Albert’s house later that night. The defense alleges McCabe is part of the coverup of what really happened to O’Keefe that night.

McCabe testified that she was with Read when O’Keefe’s body was found and that she remembers Read saying, “I hit him, I hit him, I hit him,” the morning of Jan. 29 with “100% clarity.” The defense countered, saying McCabe said something different to the state grand jury — that she had previously said Read asked: “Could I have hit him?”

McCabe’s phone records were also turned over to police. She testified she did not remember making calls to O’Keefe between 12:29 a.m. and 12:50 a.m. early on Jan. 29. In prior testimony, she dismissed them as “butt dials.” However, a phone extraction report found that she deleted other calls she made to O’Keefe that same morning.

McCabe’s Google search, “How long to die in cold,” also caught the attention of the defense team and the jury. She claimed Read asked her to Google the query after they found O’Keefe’s body.

Read more from Boston 25 News: Witness Jennifer McCabe denies deleting phone calls; Read’s defense team questions her for 4 hours

The case takes on a life of its own, both on and offline

The case has drawn a lot of national attention from mainstream media, but it’s on TikTok that the story has reached new heights. In November, the Pew Research Center found that at least 14% of American adults regularly get their news from TikTok.

A search of “Karen Read” on the platform offers up hundreds of videos, some with millions of views, offering up amateur commentary and analysis of courtroom footage.

Out of all social platforms, TikTok especially has been a host of conspiracy theories, true crime enthusiasts and sensational personal stories, so it makes sense the app has gravitated toward Read’s case.

The Boston Globe reported there were crowds of Read supporters dressed in pink and with “Free Karen Read” signs outside of the courthouse during deliberations. Much of the themed merchandising comes from local bloggers and YouTubers who have covered the case

One of the online figureheads of the movement, a blogger named Aidan “Turtleboy” Kearney, is credited with turning the case into a spectacle with his local blog, Turtleboy Daily News.

But Kearney has gotten in legal trouble himself. He was arrested in October 2023 on charges of intimidating and harassing witnesses in the Read case.

“They will never shut me up, they will never, ever, ever stop me from reporting the truth about what happened to John O’Keefe,” he told media outlets after his arraignment and release. “Reporting the news is not harassment. Asking questions is not harassment.”

He was mentioned in the courtroom on May 22 when McCabe referred to Kearney as “some named blogger that I think the defense is very familiar with.”