Fugitives seek another chance
50 people turn themselves in, hoping surrender program leads to a fresh start
In desperation, a 26-year old pregnant woman wrote a letter to Mayor Thomas M. Menino saying she was on the run from larceny charges, feared going to jail, and needed help getting her life back on track.
“I’m tired of running and sleeping at house to house,’’ she wrote. “Please, if there is anything you can do to help me get my life back . . . and be a better mom to my kids, I would surely appreciate it.’’
Yesterday, at the urging of authorities, the woman was among 50 people who turned themselves in at Jubilee Christian Church in Mattapan on the first day of Fugitive Safe Surrender, a program aimed at helping people in Suffolk County with outstanding warrants for nonviolent offenses resolve their cases, with the chance of avoiding jail. It runs through Saturday.
Many of those who surrendered looked nervous as they arrived at the church, where brightly colored nursery school classrooms were converted into makeshift courtrooms. They were assigned a number, were fitted with yellow paper bracelets, and waited while court officials ran their records.
Lawyers from the state public defender agency met with them, then huddled with county prosecutors and probation officers in an effort to reach an agreement on each case before bringing them before district court judges holding court in the basement.
The program, sponsored by the US Marshals Service, does not promise amnesty, but those who surrender are given special consideration.
Douglas Millington, 66, of Dorchester said he had been wanted for six years for violating his probation on drug charges and was tired of worrying that he might be arrested. The warrants also led the state to cut off his disability payments.
“I was kind of leery,’’ he said. “But I figured they aren’t going to arrest you in a church, and it gave me confidence.’’
After waiting a couple of hours, Millington was escorted into a classroom, where child-size chairs had been replaced by tables for the judge, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and defendants.
Judge Tracy-Lee Lyons lifted two warrants against Millington and allowed him to go free. She ordered him to report today to Dorchester District Court, then Brookline District Court tomorrow to resolve probation issues.
Joanna Sandman, the public defender who represented Millington, handed him a sheet of paper and said: “That says no more warrant. Good luck.’’
Millington said he had hoped to resolve the cases yesterday without going to court, but left saying: “I’m satisfied. I’m happy at least I can start over again.’’
The woman who is five months pregnant with her second child and wrote to the mayor had to wait about four hours as officials pulled records from several courts where she had failed to appear to face charges of larceny by check.
“It’s scary,’’ said the woman, who declined to give her name, biting her fingernails as she waited to hear whether three warrants that had been pending against her for about a year would be dropped.
“I was scared to turn myself in,’’ she said, adding that she knew she had to resolve her cases before giving birth. “I didn’t want to raise my baby like this.’’
After listening to a prosecutor describe how the woman had repeatedly failed to show up in court, Judge Robert Tochka asked her “Why did you default?’’
“I was scared,’’ she said.
The judge dismissed a case against her in Roxbury District Court that had remained open because she had not paid $215 in court costs. He dismissed the warrants for her arrest, but gave her dates to appear in courts in Dorchester, Brookline, and Cambridge to resolve the charges.
He warned her that the warrants would be reissued if she fails to show up in court.
“I’m relieved,’’ she said.
Alison Hodgkins, a supervisory deputy US marshal, said no one who surrendered was arrested, and 11 had no warrants.
“Fifty came in, and 50 went home,’’ Hodgkins said.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.