BOSTON — Emotions, accusations and angry calls for reform filled a hearing room at the State House Wednesday as the Judiciary Committee considered new legislation to tighten the state’s parole system.
The proposed bills follow last December’s murder of Woburn police officer John Maguire by a violent offender who was on parole. Among the proposed bill is one named after a young woman, Melissa Gosule.
father of slain woman
“She was a warm, considerate, down-to-earth person who never, never should have been tied to a tree, stripped and raped. Never should that have happened,” said Melissa’s father, Les Gosule.
The details came starkly, the emotions quickly from her father, whose sharp-edged grief made the room small.
“Our daughter was brutally murdered by a…a habitual offender who had over 27 convictions,” he said.
Had he been punished with a maximum sentence, instead of only two years for his previous crime, her killer wouldn’t have gotten out when he did and Melissa would be alive today, her father said.
“What do you say to that family — I don’t know. What do you say to me, what do you say to her mother, what do you say to her sister: I don’t know,” he said.
The Judiciary Committee sat mutely in a packed room tinted by a sea of blue. Four gold stripes on each sleeve of the uniforms identified chiefs of police from around the state who have mobilized after the shooting death of officer Maguire. They stood beside his brother Chuck, as he testified.
“Most people in Massachusetts feel a life sentence is a life sentence,” his brother said.
Domenic Cinelli, the alleged killer of officer Maguire, was serving three life sentences when he was paroled.
“Now we find it isn’t, this guy’s out, that guy’s out,” he continued.
Of the various bills that take aim at repeat violent offenders, one would eliminate parole for anyone serving a sentence over 15 years.
Another would eliminate parole for three-time offenders, forcing them to serve the maximum sentence. That’s the bill called Melissa’s Law. Ten times and in various forms it has been introduced, but it’s never cleared the Judiciary Committee for a full vote by the House. Woburn Police Chief Philip Mahoney said it’s back now for one reason.
“Why haven’t we been listening for 12 years, I don’t understand that. It took the death of Jack Maguire to make this happen,” Maloney said.
But it was the family of Melissa Gosule who held center stage Wednesday.
“Please vote this bill out of committee. Please, I beg of you. Do not make me come here again and have to relive this every single time,” said Melissa’s mother, Sandra Tobey.
Here in the realm of outrage and a keening sense of injustice among families of the victims, discussing what makes the best policy on crime is difficult at best.
“I respectfully suggest that the bills that address the reforms in the repeat offender area, miss the mark and for a number of different reasons,” said David White, of the Massachusetts Bar Association.
While he expressed sympathy to the families, White said the need to help rehabilitate prisoners so they won’t re-offend shouldn’t be sacrificed to blunt force laws that respond to emotions.
Another skeptic, Barbara Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums, warned the proposed bills might repeat past mistakes. She cited mandatory minimum drug laws that were once passed to get major drug dealers, only to overcrowd the nation’s prisons with non-violent drug abusers.
Dougan said these bills may aim to snare a group of repeat violent offenders, “But we are casting our nets far too wide and will end up with very serious unintended consequences of many people being in prison for lengthy periods, who don’t deserve those sentences or need those sentences to keep the public safe,” she said.
Under the bills, the felony of purse-snatching would qualify as a third strike to put someone away for life, one defense attorney testified. By then though, much of the room had cleared.
It’s a complicated issue, the co-chair of the Judiciary Committee said at one point in the hearing. To Melissa’s family and the chiefs in blue, it wasn’t complicated at all. They had the room — if not the committee — on their side.