Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito appealed to lawmakers Tuesday for new sentencing and civil commitment laws targeting repeat child rapists, but opponents of Gov. Charlie Baker's bill argued the proposal is unnecessary and would be costly and ineffective.
Baker's proposal calls for changes to the civil commitment process under which sexually dangerous people are reviewed for possible release and for a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole for anyone who uses force to rape two or more children, or uses force to rape a child after being convicted of a previous sex offense.
"This should carry, for the worst of the worst, a life sentence without parole," Polito told the Judiciary Committee at a hearing on legislation, which Baker filed in reaction to a controversy over Wayne Chapman.
In 1977, Chapman was sentenced to serve 30 years in prison for the rapes of two boys, and he was civilly committed to prison as a sexually dangerous person after his sentence ended. He was cleared for release after two psychologists ruled he was no longer a danger, but remains in custody after authorities arrested him for indecent exposure and lewd, wanton and lascivious acts that allegedly occurred in a state prison earlier this month.
Representing the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys, Michael Nam-Crane told lawmakers to have faith in the trial-by-jury system and the work of qualified examiners who evaluate civilly committed sex offenders.
"The system is not broke," said Nam-Crane.
Allison Jordan, attorney at the Committee for Public Counsel Services, said the state has not compiled or released data regarding recidivism among people released from civil commitments associated with sexual offenses. She suggested a recidivism rate of 1 percent or less.
"This bill will not result in fewer victims of sexual violence," said Jordan, who predicted the legislation, if approved, would lead to millions of dollars in new expenses associated with litigation and incarceration.
Also with the Committee for Public Counsel Services, attorney Pasqua Scibelli called the bill "unnecessary, inconstitutional and costly." She said the idea of incarcerating a person based on what they might do is "contrary to American constitutional principles" and characterized Baker's bill as a "kneejerk reaction to one case." Serial child rapists are already covered by the state's so-called "three strikes" law governing repeat violent offenders, she said.
Responding to Scibelli, Rep. Paul Tucker (D-Salem), a former police chief in that coastal community, said psychological evaluations of offenders have led to "spectacular failures" in the past and noted the role of the Legislature in aiming to ensure public safety.
In his bill, Baker noted a 2009 Supreme Judicial Court ruling stated that the civil commitment process for sexually dangerous individuals does not permit a trial concerning the release from civil commitment if two "qualified examiners" appointed by the court agree that a person is no longer sexually dangerous.
Baker's bill directs the Department of Correction to establish a five-member Sexual Dangerousness Review Board that would evaluate sex offenders nine months before they are to be released and make a recommendation to the district attorney or the attorney general about "the present sexual dangerousness of such prisoner." The bill would also require that a judge or jury hear evidence about whether a person remains sexually dangerous and make a decision regarding the person's release if there is disagreement between experts over whether the person remains sexually dangerous.
Baker and the Legislature this year agreed to a sweeping criminal justice reform bill that aims to lessen the impacts of mandatory minimum sentencing in Massachusetts. It's unclear whether the governor's new bill will reopen debate.
"It's a deep subject and we're going to give it a very careful look," said Sen. William Brownsberger, the Senate chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said after Tuesday's hearing.
"There were many people that were opposed to this bill. There were many people that thought the bill should go much further. There's an awful lot of information for us to weigh and vet, and we will do that in a thoughtful way," Rep. Claire Cronin, the committee's House chairwoman, told reporters Tuesday.
Melanie Perkins, who said she was a victim of childhood abuse, described the day that her childhood friend, Andy Puglisi, disappeared from a Lawrence swimming pool. Chapman was the last person to see him, she said.
"He was my childhood sweetheart. I never saw him again," Perkins told the committee. She said, "Wayne Chapman is not your ordinary sex offender. He is a professional pedophile."
Chapman will "re-offend should he get out," Perkins predicted. She said, "Even one child is too many."
Attorney Wendy Murphy, who said she represents Chapman's victims, said the idea that sex offenders have a low rate of re-offending — an argument made at the hearing by several opponents of the bill — is "false." She said sex crimes often go unreported, and convictions are even more rare.
Murphy hopes lawmakers will enact stricter legislation than the governor proposed.
"Serial rapists of children should be sentenced to life in prison and not to shorter terms that give them the chance to be released and reoffend," Baker wrote in his filing letter, and said his bill "establishes a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole for someone who uses force to rape two or more children, or uses force to rape a child after being convicted of a previous sex offense."
If the governor's bill was law, it would not have put a predator like Chapman behind bars for life even though he was convicted of abusing 11 children, Murphy said.
"He has never had to use threats of force to subdue his victims because they were children, some of them as young as seven. His age and size alone were sufficient to enable him to complete his attacks easily," Murphy said. She said, "Incarceration is not uncivilized for men like Wayne Chapman. Indeed it is the most civilized thing we can do."
Murphy asked lawmakers to craft legislation that would mandate life in prison for repeat child sex offenders regardless of whether they use force.
Jennifer Lane, president of Voices of Victims, Children and Community, testified in favor of the bill, telling lawmakers that Chapman is "just a symptom of a much bigger problem." Lane said, "There are dangerous people in this world. That is a fact."