, Gloucester, MA

January 24, 2011

Lawmakers seek parole changes

From staff and wire reports

BOSTON — A Gloucester lawmaker is leading a bipartisan group of state lawmakers pushing legislation to deny parole to anyone sentenced to more than one life term after a parolee released from three life sentences allegedly shot and killed a police officer.

Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester and a group of fellow senators unveiled the bill Monday. It also would require that at least three members of the seven-member Massachusetts Parole Board have a law enforcement background and wouldn't allow parole hearings without at least two of those members present. It would also remove a requirement that board members hold four-year college degrees.

The legislation comes after parole board members who voted for the convict's release resigned amid a public outcry over their decision.

The bill also increases the time that those with a single life sentence must serve before being eligible for parole from 15 to 25 years, gives the governor the power to remove members of the board with sufficient cause, and requires that the board notify the attorney general, district attorney, local police chiefs and victims' next of kin 60 days before a parole hearing.

The push for a parole overhaul follows the shooting death of Woburn police Officer John Maguire in December. Police say career criminal and parolee Dominic Cinelli shot Maguire four times during a botched jewelry heist. Cinelli also died in the exchange of gunfire.

Middlesex District Attorney Gerard Leone has said his office wasn't notified that Cinelli was scheduled for a parole hearing in 2008.

The senators pushing the parole overhaul cited Maguire's killing as proof the system needs an overhaul.

"Everybody deserves a second chance, but when it comes to violent crime, nobody deserves a third and fourth and fifth chance," said state Sen. Steven Baddour, D-Methuen.

Baddour joined Tarr and a bipartisan group of senators to unveil the bill.

Tarr said the top goal was to protect the public by keeping the most violent repeat offenders in jail longer and holding the parole board to a tougher standard for granting release.

"Sentences need to mean something," Tarr said. "We are talking about people who are a threat to public safety."

Asked if the bill would skew the board too far to one side by requiring three members be former law enforcement officers, Baddour said he wanted the board to take a "cynical approach" to dealing with those seeking parole.

Tarr and other backers said they haven't come up with an estimate on the added cost of keeping more people in prison longer, but called it minimal compared to the need for public safety.

The revelation that Cinelli had been paroled despite being sentenced to three life terms in 1986 sparked a public outrage. Patrick called for an investigation into the decision.

On Jan. 6, Tarr, Baddour and 18 other senators called for a moratorium on parole hearings pending the outcome of an investigation, with many of the senators demanding the parole board members resign. Exactly one week later, on Jan. 13, the five board members who had voted in favor of paroling Cinelli submitted their resignations.

"The resignation of the parole board members was a necessary first step for addressing the gross miscarriage of justice that failed Officer Maguire and his family, but the process of implementing meaningful and lasting reforms to restore the public's faith and trust in our criminal justice system has only just begun," said Tarr. "The reforms contained in this bill will move us that much closer to creating a parole and sentencing system that emphasizes public safety and accountability."

Last week Attorney General Martha Coakley publicly urged Patrick to name a crime victim or victim advocate to the parole board, saying it's critical to have the voice of the victim community on the board.

Patrick also filed a bill designed to toughen the state's habitual offenders law. It would require that anyone convicted of a third serious felony receive the maximum sentence and begin serving it only after completing any prior sentences.

That bill also would allow parole for those repeat offenders only after they have served two-thirds of their sentences or, if sentenced to life, after serving 25 years.

Now, offenders can be paroled after serving half of their sentence, or 15 years for a life term.

Also Monday, Josh Wall, the first assistant district attorney in Suffolk County, began his new job as the parole office's interim executive director. Patrick has also named Wall to be board chairman.

Material from Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc was used in this report.