Gov. Deval Patrick said Tuesday he planned to sign into law a crime bill that bars parole for three-time violent felons, despite the Legislature's rejection of an amendment that would have provided more discretion for judges in sentencing habitual offenders.
"I'm exuberant, I'm jubilant, I feel great," said Les Gosule, who has campaigned for the "three strikes" provision for the past 13 years. His daughter was killed in 1999 by a man with an extensive, violent criminal history.
"I think the governor did the right thing, he's a man of honor," Gosule said in a telephone interview after learning of Patrick's decision to sign the bill.
The Legislature passed the bill, which also includes reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, but on Saturday Patrick sent it back to lawmakers with his requested safety valve amendment. The proposed change would have provided judges with limited discretion to allow parole for three-time violent felons who have served two-thirds of their maximum prison sentence or after they served 25 years of a life sentence.
Lawmakers on Monday rejected the amendment and sent the original bill back to Patrick's desk. The governor could have chosen to veto the bill after the legislative session ended at Tuesday midnight, preventing lawmakers from considering an override, but he decided not to.
"I asked for a balanced bill and, after many twists and turns, the Legislature has given me one," Patrick said in his statement. "Because of the balance between strict sentences for the worst offenders and more common sense approaches for those who pose little threat to public safety, I have said that this is a good bill. I will sign this bill."
In addition to the three strikes provision, the bill also includes a number of sentencing reforms, including a reduction in mandatory minimum sentences for some non-violent drug offenders.
"Those changes start to move us away from the expensive and ineffective policy of warehousing non-violent drug offenders towards a more reasonable, smarter supervision and substance abuse program," the governor said.
The group Families Against Mandatory Minimums said that once in effect, the law would begin to eliminate "one-size-fits-all" drug sentences and make hundreds of current inmates eligible for parole.
Patrick added that he still believes in greater judicial discretion in sentencing and indicated that he would work to make that change in the next legislative session, along with further changes in mandatory minimum sentences.
He acknowledged the fight over the legislation has been an "emotional issue" for many people.
Gosule's daughter, Melissa Gosule, was kidnapped, raped and killed by a man who prosecutors say offered her help after her car broke down on Cape Cod in 1999. The convicted killer, Michael Gentile, had 27 previous convictions but had served only two years behind bars.
Renewed calls for passage of the bill came after veteran Woburn police officer John Maguire was shot and killed in December 2010 by Domenic Cinelli, a career criminal who had been paroled a year earlier.
Patrick's announcement that he would sign the measure would bring relief to family members "of those who have fallen victim to career criminals," said House Speaker Robert DeLeo.
The three strikes measure has been opposed by minority groups, and some religious organizations that warned it would add to prison overcrowding and disproportionately target black and Latino inmates.
Felons who had been convicted of two previous violent crimes that resulted in prison sentences of at least three years would be covered by the three strikes provision. Supporters have said it was likely that fewer than a dozen felons each year would be sentenced under the measure.
Patrick did not specify when he would sign the bill.
You can read Patrick's full statement on his plan to sign the bill, below: