Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A crime that screams for outrage and action

By Scot Lehigh
Boston Globe Columnist
November 28, 2007

HAS EVERYONE on Beacon Hill fallen fast asleep?

Two people were just slain by a Massachusetts thug who was released on personal recognizance rather than having to make steep bail. And who then skipped town and fled to Washington state, where he was arrested last Monday and charged with killing young newlyweds Brian and Beverly Mauck in their home.

Brian and Beverly Mauck

But so far, the official reaction here has been so muted as to defy belief.

We have a governor who, to burnish his tough-on-crime bona fides in last year's campaign, portrayed himself as an experienced former federal prosecutor who had put people in prison.

We have an attorney general who said her days as Middlesex district attorney showed she was an accomplished prosecutor ready to protect public safety.

We have a House speaker who thinks he's really governor. We have a Senate president eager to make her mark.

Are they all still sluggishly digesting their Thanksgiving turkey?

It's not enough to say, as Governor Patrick did on Monday - a full week after Daniel Tavares Jr.'s arrest for the Washington couple's murder - that he has asked his public safety secretary to review the case to help him understand exactly what happened.

Tavares allegedly executed two people, and from what we've read, there was ample reason to suspect he might do something like that. After all, he had stabbed his mother to death with a carving knife, allegedly assaulted several prison guards, and made several death threats, at least two of which were against public officials.

We've read about the threat against Mitt Romney. On Monday, former attorney general Thomas Reilly confirmed that Tavares had also made a threat against him.

"I got notified by the State Police several months ago that Tavares had been released from prison and that he had threatened to kill me and Romney, and that he had my home address," Reilly told me. "The State Police sent me his photograph in case either I or my family saw him."

Nor is it enough to say, as Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara Rouse did on Monday, that Judge Kathe Tuttman simply applied the law to the information provided her in reversing the district court bail of $50,000 for each assault count and freeing Tavares on personal recognizance. Explanations that treat decisions like hers as the unavoidable result of a mechanistic system should not suffice.

I would have thought that, a day or two after the horrible news broke, the governor, the attorney general, the speaker, and the Senate president would have appeared together to announce that they would be appointing, empowering, and supporting a high-profile independent commission, composed of people like former attorney general Scott Harshbarger plus a respected former judge or two, to determine precisely what happened here. And to propose reforms to ensure that it never happens again.

There are important questions that need to be answered, as swiftly and as completely as possible.

One: What was Tuttman's rationale for overturning the district court's bail decision and releasing Tavares pending his trial for assaulting the prison guards?

Two: The Globe's Michael Levenson has reported that the Department of Correction never told Tuttman of the death threats Tavares made. How could such a glaring omission have occurred?

Three: Why, as my colleague Kevin Cullen has wondered, didn't prosecutors seek a dangerousness hearing, which could have made it easier to justify a high bail?

Four: If a judge's options are restricted in a case like this absent such a hearing, shouldn't those hearings be routine where violent defendants are concerned?

Five: Why did the Department of Correction wait nearly 18 months before seeking to have Tavares prosecuted for assaulting the prison guards?

Six: What steps did State Police and prosecutors take to warn Washington officials about Tavares's possible presence there - and to apprehend him?

In other words, we need a full, complete, official, credible accounting that scrutinizes every aspect of this fiasco. And it needs to be a top priority.

"The families of those victims deserve answers and the people of both states deserve answers," says Reilly. "It is not up to me to decide what the forum should be, but we need to know what happened, why it happened, and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening in the future."

Yes, and we need something else that's been lacking: a real sense of urgency.

Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is

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