Man convicted of racially motivated road rage murder in Belmont gets life in prison

Three years after Henry Tapia died during a road rage incident, the man convicted of his murder was sentenced.

A Middlesex Superior Court judge imposed a life-in-prison sentence Wednesday on Dean Kapsalis, who was convicted last May of second-degree murder. Kapsalis will be eligible for parole in about twelve years — given he’s been in custody since 2021.

The incident took place on January 19, 2021 on Upland Road in Belmont. Kapsalis, who is from Hudson, was en route to visit his long-time fiance, Dineen Bartolo, when Tapia aggressively passed him and then stopped his vehicle in front of Kapsalis’s. Both men exited and an argument ensued. In the end, Kapsalis was found guilty of hitting and killing Tapia by driving into him.

But before that happened, Kapsalis directed a racial slur at Tapia — and that, more than anything, defined this case, said his attorney, Jack Cunha — and unfairly so.

“This was not a racially motivated incident,” Cunha said. “If it wasn’t for that word, I think the verdict would either have been not guilty or, at most, manslaughter.”

Cunha said after the slur was used, Tapia jumped on the hood of his client’s vehicle.

“One witness said his face (Tapia’s) went all the way up to the windshield,” Cunha said. “Sitting in the driver’s seat, what would you feel at that point but terror? You’ve heard the phrase ‘perfect storm.’ Well, that’s what happened that day.”

Cunha said Kapsalis drove onto the sidewalk — not into Tapia.

A jury last May agreed, in effect, that Kapsalis did not intend to kill Tapia — by rejecting the state’s recommendation of a first-degree murder conviction.

Cunha said the verdict will be appealed.

Bartolo also disputed the idea there was a racial element to the incident.

“If it was a racist thing, it was fighting words — and, unfortunately, it was the wrong word,” she said. “If it was a racist thing he would have said it right off the bat.”

Bartolo’s relationship with Kapsalis goes back fifteen years. For the past five, they’ve been engaged.

“I know Dean is really remorseful about what happened, but if you saw the street, the way it was set up, he couldn’t have backed out,” she said. “He couldn’t have done a U-turn.”

Bartolo also charged that evidence — including a history of aggressiveness on Tapia’s part — was left out of the trial. She also said Tapia flung racial slurs back at Kapsalis — calling him “white trash.”

Cunha said evidence of the slurs came from a home surveillance camera that barely picked up street audio because of the wind. However, he said Kapsalis was facing the camera — and thus was in a better position to be recorded clearly.

Before his sentencing, Kapsalis expressed regret and his condolences to Tapia’s family.

“I am by no means a racist, nor am I a murderer,” he said. “I regret my choice of words that day, especially the extremely offensive racial slur I used.”

Tapia’s fiancé, Courtney Morton, read a victim impact statement. She said her companion’s death has been especially hard on the couple’s six-year-old son.

“I made it down to the ambulance and I looked down at his eyes,” she said. “And his eyes told me I’m sorry, I love you... but I’m not going to make it back home.”

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