Deval Patrick, convicted rapist Benjamin LaGuer and convicted cop killer Carl Ray Songer
John J. Monahan:
The campaign of Democrat candidate for governor Deval L. Patrick was jolted with more disclosures yesterday about his past support for release of convicted Leominster rapist Benjamin LaGuer, and Republican Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, looking to make up ground in the polls, began using the controversy to hammer away at his crime-fighting credentials.
The Healey campaign is also launching a new television ad, skewering Mr. Patrick for his role as an NAACP lawyer representing a convicted cop killer in Florida in 1985.
At that time, Mr. Patrick successfully argued for Carl Ray Songer’s death sentence to be reduced. It was later reinstated, and again reversed, and Mr. Songer remains in prison for the murder of a Florida highway patrolman.
In the television ad, a narrator asks, “While lawyers have a right to defend admitted cop killers, do we really want one as our governor?”
Richard Chacon, a Patrick campaign spokesman, said the candidate worked on the case while he was a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in New York, and the issue was whether Mr. Songer should get the death sentence or life in prison.
“The federal appeals court agreed with him that the death sentence violated the Constitution of the United States. He is proud of his work on the matter and believes justice is served by Songer spending the rest of his life in prison,” Mr. Chacon said. “Though Kerry Healey has never spent a day in criminal court, she ought to show more respect for the Constitution.”
Mr. Patrick yesterday told reporters at a Boston press conference, where he was surrounded by law enforcement officials endorsing his candidacy, that he now is convinced that the 43-year-old Mr. LaGuer is guilty and is no longer calling for his release.
He said he does not regret writing the letters on behalf of Mr. LaGuer, in the 1980s and then as recently as 1998 and 2000, when he wrote to the Massachusetts Parole Board encouraging it to release Mr. LaGuer.
“There were serious issues raised about the fairness of his trial, not the issues of his guilt, the fairness of his trial,” Mr. Patrick said yesterday.
“In the case of Benjamin LaGuer, there were also other prominent people in this area urging me to get involved,” he said, and noted there had been widespread media reports of racial issues “in the jury room.”
Ms. Healey, however, said Mr. Patrick’s letters on behalf of Mr. LaGuer show bad judgment and that Mr. Patrick would stand on the side of criminals, while she would stand with innocent victims.
“I don’t think there could be a starker contrast between Deval Patrick’s approach and my own. I never want to see sex offenders go back on the street. I would like to see them stay incarcerated indefinitely,” Ms. Healey told the Telegram & Gazette yesterday. “So, he is working hard to get the rapists out on the street. I am trying to keep them in jail as long as humanly possible.”
In 2002, DNA tests confirmed prosecution claims that Mr. LaGuer raped a 59-year-old woman in a neighboring apartment over an eight-hour period during which she was bound with a telephone cord. Mr. LaGuer was convicted in 1984 of aggravated rape and is serving a life sentence.
He had claimed he was not guilty even after his conviction. Over many years a number of prominent lawyers and officials had written on his behalf seeking his release, DNA tests and reviews of his conviction. They included Mr. Patrick, former Democratic gubernatorial candidate John R. Silber, and a number of elected officials.
The court-supervised DNA testing in 2002 convinced many of his earlier supporters to abandon his claims of innocence and his claims that his trial was unfair, including Mr. Patrick, who said he now believes justice was done in the case.
In March, Mr. LaGuer lost an appeal to the state Appeals Court in which he claimed three fingerprints found by police at the crime scene were kept from the defense during his trial. He has since appealed that decision further to the Supreme Judicial Court and has claimed the DNA evidence was mishandled. That appeal is pending.
Mr. Patrick’s previous support for Mr. LaGuer emerged in the campaign last week when Leominster Mayor Dean J. Mazzarella, who as a young police officer was the first to arrive at the crime scene and helped investigate the case, claimed he had serious misgivings about Mr. Patrick because of his intervention with the Parole Board on Mr. LaGuer’s behalf. Mr. Mazzarella said he wants to make sure that if elected governor, Mr. Patrick will not pardon the man.
Mr. Mazzarella said yesterday that he never intended to turn his concerns about Mr. Patrick’s involvement with Mr. LaGuer into a political issue. He said he has had no discussions with the Healey campaign about the issue and does not desire to change voters’ minds about Mr. Patrick.
“I wasn’t trying to sway anyone, to persuade anyone, to change anyone’s mind,” he said.
He said his basic message is: “If people want to advocate on anyone’s behalf, before they put a letter like that out, they should really make sure they have the whole story.”
Mr. Mazzarella has asked Mr. Patrick to meet with him to discuss the case, and Mr. Patrick’s campaign staff said Mr. Patrick plans to meet with the mayor next week.
Initially last week, Chacon said that Mr. Patrick had written letters on Mr. LaGuer’s behalf 15 years ago. But The Boston Globe reported yesterday that copies of letters to the Parole Board by Mr. Patrick recommending Mr. LaGuer for parole were filed in 1998 and 2000, prompting renewed focus on the issue.
The Healey campaign yesterday distributed flyers headlined, “Dear Ben…Best regards, Deval” that referred to phrases Mr. Patrick used in a letter to Mr. LaGuer, and quoted Worcester Superior Court Justice Robert Mulkern as saying the rape was “one of the most vicious sexual assaults, particularly of a fragile and vulnerable person, that I have ever seen.”
Ms. Healey issued blistering comments about Mr. Patrick’s involvement in the LaGuer case, when asked about it yesterday.
“I think the question you have to ask is why he felt motivated to act on behalf of a convicted rapist. Why isn’t he more on the side of victims and the families of victims?” she asked. “Throughout my career I have worked to strengthen criminal laws in ways that protect victims and protect innocent people. I have never written a letter to try to release a violent criminal prematurely,” she said.
“It’s clear this case is a very serious one. Anyone who has read or heard the particulars of this rape is horrified,” Ms. Healey said. “The idea that my opponent would work on behalf of a man who he has never met, but has had an extensive correspondence with, and had formed an opinion of his character through his correspondence that made him try to seek this man’s premature release, disturbs me,” she said.
She dismissed whether reports of racial prejudice in Mr. LaGuer’s prosecution would have warranted the intervention, and further called on Mr. Patrick to “reveal the full extent of his relationship with this rapist.
“Certainly, if there is ever a question of racial prejudice in our courts that should be stamped out. That is not acceptable. But what is also never acceptable is to release a dangerous criminal into society before they have paid their debt to society and while they are still dangerous.”
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