Lawmakers Push For 'Melissa's Law'

By Ralph Ranalli

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Jan. 4, 2010

Woburn police officers lined up before a press conference announcing Maguire's death on Dec. 27. (AP)

BOSTON -- When Woburn policeman John Maguire was allegedly shot to death by a "career criminal" serving parole last week, his colleagues became outraged that the suspect, Dominic Cinelli, was free in the first place.
 
“It’s an absolute shame that that man, in this day and age, was out,” Sgt. Charles Heseltine said. “He should be incarcerated.”
 
Cinelli, 57, was paroled in 2008 while serving three concurrent life sentences for a series of armed robberies. He was also killed in the gunfire, opened after Macguire responded to reports that Cinelli was trying to rob a Kohl’s department store during the Dec. 26 blizzard.
 
On Tuesday, a group of GOP lawmakers said they have a bill called “Melissa’s Law” that would have prevented Cinelli’s parole – but it’s been mired in committee for 10 years.
 
  “We said if we don’t pass this bill in this session there’ll be more crimes committed, more carnage on the streets of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,” said State Rep. Bradford Hill of Ipswitch, recalling the last time GOP lawmakers tried to pass the bill two years ago. “And sure enough, that has happened.”
 
The bill is named after Melissa Gosule, a Randolph schoolteacher who was killed in 1999 by Michael Gentile, a Halifax man who was granted parole despite having 27 criminal convictions on his record.
 
If passed, Melissa’s law would:

- Automatically impose the maximum penalty under the law for a third Superior Court felony conviction or a third conviction for a felony that carries a penalty over 10 years.
 
 - Remove parole eligibility for any offender convicted under Melissa’s Law.
 
- Count federal as well as state convictions among the three felony convictions.
 
- Eliminate some bargaining during sentencing to limit concurrent sentences.

Hill held a press conference Tuesday, renewing his call for passage of the bill, which was first filed 10 years ago.
 
Republicans say they think the bill could pass soon, since Democrats like House Speaker Robert DeLeo are now calling on lawmakers to address the parole system in the wake of Maguire’s murder.
 
Democratic state Rep. Jim Dwyer, who represents Woburn, said the issue transcends party lines. “It’s not a liberal or conservative bill, it’s not a Democrat-Republican bill, it’s a public safety bill -- and more importantly it’s a common sense bill,” Dwyer said.           
 
Because about 6,000 inmates are granted parole every year, the bill’s backers admit that its passage could drive up state prison populations and associated costs. Hill and other lawmakers said they would like to see money shifted from the Probation Department -- which has come under fire for patronage hiring and inflated budgets -- to incarceration.
 
Gosule’s father, Les, said that after lobbying for the bill for years, he’s frustrated there hasn’t been much movement on the bill. He thinks it’s time to get tough on repeat offenders.
           
“Or we want to be politically correct and say OK, we’ll give you another chance,” he said. “Another chance to do what? Rape another woman, murder another person? How many chances does somebody have?”
 
But Northeastern criminology Professor James Alan Fox said on The Emily Rooney Show that "three strikes" laws like the one proposed don’t always work as intended. “You should punish the quality of the crime, not the quantity."
 
Some offenders have one or two "strikes" far worse than those who have three convictions of more minor crimes. Fox said a blanket law won't take that into consideration.
 
"It fills your prisons with older inmates who are well past their prime, who are no longer dangerous," Fox said.
 
Fox said the bill could actually make criminals more dangerous. "It also causes many third-time offenders to be ruthless and desperate and willing to shoot it out with the cops, rather than being arrested for the third time,” Fox said.
 
Fox said some states that have implemented similar laws are looking at changing or reversing them. "I certainly believe in long-term punishments, but parole has a function. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater," Fox added.
 

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