WIDOW OF BIG Y HEIR SPARED SECOND TRIAL

BOSTON -- The widow of an heir to the Big Y Foods supermarket chain will not stand trial a second time in connection with her husband's shooting death, the state supreme court here decided.The Supreme Judicial Court of the State of Massachusetts ruled that the widow, Suzanne D'Amour, who was acquitted of first degree murder in 1997, could not be tried on a murder conspiracy charge in the death of

BOSTON -- The widow of an heir to the Big Y Foods supermarket chain will not stand trial a second time in connection with her husband's shooting death, the state supreme court here decided.

The Supreme Judicial Court of the State of Massachusetts ruled that the widow, Suzanne D'Amour, who was acquitted of first degree murder in 1997, could not be tried on a murder conspiracy charge in the death of Robert D'Amour. The court said that would violate a constitutional protection against double jeopardy -- standing trial for the same alleged crime one is acquitted of.

Suzanne D'Amour was convicted of perjury for lying to a grand jury examining evidence in the case and is serving a 10-12 year jail sentence. However, she could be eligible for parole sometime next year, a state prosecutor told SN, and that conviction is being appealed. A second person charged in the killing, Alex Rankins, was convicted by a jury of first degree murder and is serving a life sentence that is also on appeal.

Officials at Big Y Food Stores could not be reached for comment.

Robert D'Amour, a Springfield, Mass.-area dentist, was found shot to death in the couple's home in South Hadley in 1993. His father and uncle founded the Big Y chain. Robert D'Amour had owned some shares of Big Y stock but held no title in the Springfield-based company, according to David Ross, an assistant district attorney who prosecuted the cases. Ross said at least some of those shares had been sold back to the company prior to D'Amour's death.

The circumstances and facts surrounding D'Amour's death include secret love letters from Suzanne D'Amour to Rankins and a $3.8 million life insurance policy partially paid out to the widow. Part of the insurance settlement has been frozen because of the perjury conviction, Ross said.

According to Ross, the D'Amours were married seven years when the husband, who was 30 years his wife's senior, was killed. Both of them had three children from a prior marriage. Ross also said Suzanne D'Amour, 37, and Rankins, 51, a former boiler maker, were longtime friends who became lovers approximately two years before Robert D'Amour was killed.

"She had written a very passionate letter to Rankins that said [in part] 'words cannot express my love for you'," Ross said. According to the prosecutor, another letter from Suzanne D'Amour to Rankins derided her husband for his financial status and the fact that he temporarily lost his license to practice dentistry.

While those letters were introduced as evidence at trial, it was a reported conversation between Suzanne D'Amour and a female friend that helped convince a grand jury to indict her on the murder charges, Ross said. The friend told the grand jury that in 1991, D'Amour said "she knew someone who could kill her husband, but she had to make sure she was set financially first," Ross said.

That's where the insurance policy came in. Ross said Robert D'Amour was pressured by his wife to take out the policy in 1991. At 2:30 a.m. on Dec. 7 that year -- two hours after the policy went into effect -- someone shot at D'Amour while he was in his truck near Rankin's Springfield home. He escaped unharmed. Two years later, after the amount of the policy's coverage was increased, D'Amour was killed.

"Just prior to murder, Suzanne arranged for his insurance to be increased," Ross said. "We had testimony from the insurance agent that she was involved in the processing of the policy, that she personally delivered the payment," to the agent, he added.

Both of the appeals filed by Rankins and D'Amour are based on wiretaps investigators placed on D'Amour's phone while she was under investigation, Ross said. Rankins' appeal was heard last week and a court decision is pending.