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Bills Seek To Toughen Mass. Parole Laws

By Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
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Woburn Police Officer John Maguire was killed in the line of duty by a parolee on December 26, 2010. (credit: Woburn Police Dept.)

Woburn Police Officer John Maguire was killed in the line of duty by a parolee on December 26, 2010. (credit: Woburn Police Dept.)

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BOSTON (AP) – The shooting death of Woburn Police Officer John Maguire last month has revived a debate on whether — and by how much — to limit parole for repeat violent offenders.

Gov. Deval Patrick on Friday filed a bill designed to toughen the state’s habitual offenders law. It would require that anyone convicted of a third serious felony receive the maximum sentence and begin serving it only after completing any prior sentences.

The bill would also would allow parole for those repeat offenders only after they have served two-thirds of their sentences or, if sentenced to life, after serving 25 years.

Currently offenders can be paroled after serving half of their sentence, or 15 years for a life term.

“The reality remains that most people who spend time in prison will return to the community,” Patrick wrote in a letter accompanying the bill.

“A functioning parole system is essential to ensure effective re-entry of formerly incarcerated individuals into society as a safety valve for an increasingly overcrowded and volatile prison system,” he added.

Patrick’s bill mirrors many elements of a bill that has been filed for years by state Rep. Bradford Hill, R-Ipswich and Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone.

Unlike Patrick’s bill, however, their bill — called “Melissa’s Bill” in honor of a woman who was killed by a habitual offender — would bar any parole for those sentenced to a third conviction of a felony punishable by more than 10 years in prison.

Melissa’s Bill also remove a loophole by including federal convictions in the parole calculations.

The bill is named after Melissa Gosule, a 27-year-old woman killed in 1999 by Michael Gentile, a Falmouth man who had 27 convictions but had served less than two years in prison. After her car broke down on July 11, 1999, Gosule accepted a ride from Gentile, who posed as a Good Samaritan. Gosule was found eight days later in a shallow grave.

Leone said he would prefer to see Melissa’s Bill passed, but he sees the governor’s bill as an improvement to the habitual offender law now on the books.

“The fact of the matter is the reason we’re having this uptick in debate now is because Officer Jack Maguire was killed,” Leone said.

“It’s too bad the killing of a police officer had to bring it to the forefront. However, if there’s a silver lining in Jack Maguire having been killed heroically and tragically, it’s that it compelled debate about Melissa’s Bill and the widespread support it’s getting right now.”

According to police, Maguire was one of several officers who responded to 911 calls about a robbery at the Kohl’s jewelry counter Dec. 26 in the middle of a blizzard. Police said Maguire was chasing two suspects on foot when the gunfire started. He was hit four times and was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Police said 57-year-old career criminal Dominic Cinelli fired the fatal shots. He also died in the gunfight.

In 1986, Cinelli was sentenced to life in prison in Suffolk County and later received two concurrent life sentences for crimes committed in Middlesex County.

In 2008, the Massachusetts Parole Board voted unanimously to release Cinelli after he testified that he had overcome drug addiction, turned his life around and expressed his remorse about his crimes.

On Thursday, Patrick announced he had accepted the resignations of the five members of the board who voted to release Cinelli. Patrick also accepted the resignation of the executive director of the board, and said he would seek to remove other officials from the agency pending civil service proceedings.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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