Massachusetts Parole Board Feels Citizens’ & Officials Rage Over Woburn Police Murder

Understandably, the members of the Massachusetts Parole Board are on the receiving end of a lot of anger, even rage, in the wake of the December 26 2010 murder of Woburn police officer John B. Maguire by a freed convict.

By all official accounts, investigators say Domenic Cinelli fatally shot John Maquire during a robbery attempt. Those same officials describe Cinelli as a career criminal, who never should have been released by the Parole Board. Police chiefs from across Massachusetts, together with several state senators, ratcheted up the pressure on the state Parole Board yesterday, to both account for their November 2008 decision to release the career criminal who murdered Maguire, Domenic Cinelli, as well as call a halt to all parole hearings until a formal investigation reveals why and how Cinelli was released. About 75 police chiefs and several state senators – interestingly, from both sides of the aisle, joined in loudly condemning the Board’s actions in releasing Cinelli, and in calling for a halt to all future release hearings until the official investigation ordered by Governor Deval Patrick is completed.

These reactions from both the general public, public safety officials and elected politicians, is very, very understandable. I say this as someone who makes his living, in part, as a Boston criminal defense lawyer. Who can blame anyone for feeling this way?

“This is a responsible, measured action, and time is of the essence, to protect public safety,” commented state Senator Bruce E. Tarr, a Republican from Gloucester who is the Senate minority leader. “We all have been horrified.” Tarr’s calls were echoed by several Democrats who joined the State House press conference. Senate President Therese Murray has said that she also supports a moratorium on parole hearings. Senators at the press conference said they anticipated that the investigation ordered by Governor Patrick would be completed within a couple of weeks, but they do not want to allow scheduled parole hearings on Jan. 11, 20, and 25, in the event the review takes longer than anticipated. The governor’s office said later that it had suspended making decisions on inmates with life sentences as of last week, when the review was first announced. State law requires the Parole Board to conduct public hearings for convicts with life sentences 60 days prior to their parole eligibility dates. But executive sessions, which are where decisions on granting parole are made, have been suspended. Therefore, no additional inmates will be released until this inquiry is completed, and until any agreed-upon recommendations are implemented within the Parole Board. However, John Grossman, undersecretary for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety, said that the public portion of the parole hearings have not been suspended, because victims and their family members have previously made lengthy travel plans to attend them in some cases.

In commenting forcefully, Charles Maguire, a retired probation officer who is the victim’s brother, said that “a 3-year-old” would have known that Cinelli, 57, had a violent criminal record and that he posed a threat to public safety. He said his brother John was dedicated to the police force and that “his whole life was there, he loved it.” Woburn Mayor Scott D. Galvin has called for the resignations of all Parole Board members. Northborough Police Chief Mark Leahy, president of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, made his anger clear, saying that “if every member of the Parole Board resigned, I’d be very happy about that.” Leahy said that Cinelli earned “seemingly every merit badge you can earn in the corrections system . . . any clear-thinking person” should have understood that he posed a threat. “If it’s predictable, it’s preventable,” he said.

As a Dedham, Massachusetts criminal defense lawyer, I understand where these feelings come from. And I support a temporary moratorium on future decision by the Parole Board until a thorough review is completed, and recommended changes are implemented. I would only ask an angry public to realize that because this has happened, we cannot in good conscience halt any and all future consideration of all parole applications. Believe it or not, some convicts pay their debt to society responsibly, and wish to return to an active, productive life within society. Many convicts are not incarcerated for violent offenses, as was Cinelli, and they deserve to be at least heard.

But clearly, it seems someone or several people in charge dropped the ball here, and tragically so. Important changes need to be made. Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen again. Let’s proceeded carefully, and prudently. But let’s not destroy any sense of fairness or criminal justice in the process.