A Woburn Police Officer Is Gunned Down At Robbery. Is Massachusetts Parole Board To Blame?- Attorney Sam’s Take

2010 is ending with a tragedy which many people believe could have, and should have, been averted. I am talking about the recent homicide of Woburn police officer John Maguire as he tried to apprehend robbery suspects during Sunday’s blizzard. The accused killer, Dominic Dinelli , 57, (hereinafter, the “Parolee”), is also dead, by the way. Massachusetts is in an uproar pointing the finger of blame at the Parole Board which paroled the Parolee in 2008.

In fact, let’s be clear. The Board did fail to follow the applicable law which mandates that the prosecutors who put the Parolee away 20 years earlier be notified of the hearing.

Does this really mean that, had the Board notified the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, the Parolee would not have been released? If so, would the prosecutor’s intervention have been warranted?

There is no reason to believe that the prosecutors had any more knowledge about the Parolee than the Board already did. After all, the Parolee had been incarcerated for 20 years. There was no secret about his background before then. He had an almost life-long history of violent crime. This is why he was serving the sentences he was serving in the first place.

One goal of incarceration about which we like to forget is rehabilitation. Often, there is little such rehabilitation to be observed. In this case, however, the Board voted to free the Parolee in a 6 – 0 vote. During the hearing, board members praised the Parolee for evolving from a drug-addled menace of the prison system to a model prisoner who spoke to other addicts about recovery.

Had prosecutors known about the hearing, they indicate that they would have sent a strongly worded letter opposing the Parolee’s release as they had at his prior hearing. Of course, the previous letter was already on file for the Board. Clearly, there was no new information for the district attorney to present. Therefore, other than sending a new letter to cover its prosecutorial behind and going on record to oppose any such release with a theory of “once a bad guy, always a bad guy”, what difference should such a letter have made? In fact, one of the Parolee’s previous victims was notified of the hearing, but did not show up.

Perhaps that individual realized what everyone else seems to have forgotten – the reason for parole hearings. Although the history is relevant, it is not a re-trial of the potential parolee’s past crimes. It is to look at where the incarcerated individual was then and is now.

Middlesex is not the only county to have prosecuted the Parolee. Suffolk County also prosecuted him. Jake Wark, a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office has explained that, even if notified, the office does not have enough prosecutors to oppose requests for parole involving offenders convicted of crimes short of murder. Mr. Wark also opined that the best argument against the Parolee’s parole was his own record.

Clearly, the Board already had said record.

The bottom line is that the Board had all that it needed to make its decision.

But, a police officer has been gunned down. There must be someone other than the alleged gunman, already dead, to blame for the circumstances. This entire occurrence must be a living somebody’s fault!

A View From The Trenches:

I was involved with neither the Parolee’s criminal history nor his parole hearing. I do not know all the details and so cannot comment on whether or not the Parole Board made the right decision given all the information.

However, I do have enough experience as both a former prosecutor and a longtime Boston criminal defense attorney to know a few things which, someday, we will have to consider if we are to do any true fixing of an admittedly deeply flawed criminal justice system.

First of all, if prosecutors had been notified of the hearing, and were able to address it, what would their presentation really mean?

Despite the fact that a prosecutor’s duty is to “see justice done”, it is really hard to take said admonition seriously when, in order to keep their jobs, their orders from above translates to “be “tough” on crime and oppose the defense”. In other words, in the vast majority of cases, everyone knows what their position is going to be. Just as courts routinely enter a “not guilty” plea at each defendant’s arraignment, Parole Boards may as well mark down “opposed” on behalf of the prosecution in most Parole Hearing.

Unless , of course, the parolee cooperated with the government; then, the misunderstood gentleman often gets sanctified.

If we want a system wherein the prosecutor’s word really means something, perhaps we should see less “CYA” directives from prosecutorial politicians and more of an interest in justice in pending cases.

The fact is that, sometimes, people change. Sometimes they were never even guilty of what they were convicted of, too, but let’s leave that uncomfortable fact for another day.

“So, what are you saying, Sam? That everyone who seems to have changed in prison should get out early?”

Actually, no. Many prisoners become pillars of society as long as they are locked up and in the controlled atmosphere of prison, yet fall to criminal pieces after they get out. However, it is not the prosecutors who might be able to predict this – it would be experts and doing so would probably take much more time than we allow Parole Boards to have during parole hearings.

But then again, what worth is human debris when there are issues of time and funding involved?

One day next year, perhaps we will discuss the truth behind our correctional system and what it really produces for our society.

For now, as a new year gleams in front of us, I guess we should just celebrate what we have…or, in many cases, what may be ahead.

Please accept my, and the good folks of Altman & Altman, LLP’s , civil litigators extraordinaire, very best wishes for a happy and healthy new year.

And, of course,

Have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend !

To view the original story, including a video of the meeting, mentioned in today’s blog is available for view at http://mobile.boston.com/art/35/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/12/30/da_not_notified_of_parole_hearing/

Reminder To Readers: Next week, Attorney Sam’s Take returns to daily, or even more than daily, postings. As always, thanks for reading! -SBG

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