Governor Deval Patrick, facing widespread anger from police chiefs and victims’ advocates, pleaded for patience today as his administration completes a review of the state Parole Board’s decision to free a violent career criminal who shot and killed a Woburn police officer last week.
House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, however, expressed outrage at the board's decision and vowed to make it a "major focus" of legislative action in the new session.
Appearing minutes apart on the third floor of the State House, the two leaders struck dramatically different postures as they spoke for the first time since the parolee, Dominic Cinelli, killed Officer John B. Maguire during the botched robbery of a Kohl’s department store on Dec. 26.
The governor said he was "obviously upset" about the case, but would not comment at length until his administration finishes its review of the Parole Board’s 2008 decision to free Cinelli, who was serving three concurrent life terms for a series of armed robberies.
"I want to wait for the review and then review what they show me thoroughly and then take whatever action is necessary," the governor said. "The thing that, for me, gets lost in this -- and I was thinking about this at the funeral last week -- is that we jump immediately to the recriminations, and we forget there’s a human tragedy there, a family that’s been upended."
But a visibly angry DeLeo sharply questioned the Parole Board’s decision and said the case "cries out" for a remedy, either from the governor or the Legislature, to ensure that convicts serving multiple life sentences cannot be paroled.
"When I read three life sentences, that just grabbed me, and I said, ‘Why are we even having this discussion?’" DeLeo said.
The animated response was unusual for DeLeo, a typically reserved politician who has been on the defensive in recent weeks as he tries to deflect questions about a patronage scandal at the state Probation Department.
The Cinelli case has incensed many police officers and victims’ advocates, who have said that someone with his long criminal history should never have been freed. Several chiefs have said that the case has seriously shaken public confidence in the state’s parole system.
DeLeo said he was troubled not only that Cinelli was freed but that the Parole Board failed to notify prosecutors before Cinelli’s parole hearing. Cinelli, 57, who was killed during a shootout with Woburn police, had a history of drug problems, and a criminal record dating to his teenager years that included violent robberies and the shooting of a security guard.
But the Parole Board voted 6-0 to release him, saying he had not had disciplinary problems in nearly 10 years, had been performing well in substance abuse treatment programs, and was "conducting his life in a positive manner." The Middlesex district attorney’s office has said that, if it had been notified of the hearing, it would have objected to freeing Cinelli, as it did during his unsuccessful bid for parole in 2005.
The absence of a prosecutor to represent Cinelli’s victims at the 2008 hearing should have raised "basic questions" of fairness from Parole Board members, DeLeo said.
"Right now we have a police officer who got brutally murdered, and we all saw ... the family, and the heartache that they’re going through right now, and we have a gentleman with three life sentences who committed this atrocity, and I want to know why," DeLeo said.
Parole Board members have declined to return calls seeking comment.
Patrick said he had not watched a video of Cinelli's 2008 parole hearing, or delved deeply into his criminal history. But Patrick said he had spoken to Maguire’s widow, Desiree, and to Woburn Police Chief Philip Mahoney and "they are suffering and the community is suffering."
But Woburn has "really circled this family," to offer them support, Patrick said.
"It’s been an enormous comfort to them," he said, "and also to me."
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