Parole in police officer’s murder not so easy

Officer Maguire

Maybe it’s my imagination, but it seems that the media and elected officials alike have been somewhat guarded in criticizing the state Parole Board for releasing Dominic Cinelli, a violent career criminal who murdered Woburn police officer John Maguire last week.

Yes, everyone is saying what you would expect. The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald have both published editorials saying the board erred in releasing Cinelli. Yes, the board made a huge mistake in not notifying the Middlesex County district attorney’s office before the 2008 hearing at which Cinelli’s parole was approved. And Cinelli, whom a dying Maguire shot to death in the course of an attempted robbery at Kohl’s, seems to have been an unusually poor risk.

Here is another wrinkle. According to a report by Gordon Vincent of Woburn’s Daily Times Chronicle, Cinelli would not have been eligible for parole until 2023 were it not for a decision by the state Appeals Court that overturned a ruling made by the Parole Board regarding the start date of Cinelli’s sentence.

Yet today’s Globe story by Jonathan Saltzman includes some facts worth pondering:

  • The Parole Board apparently did not think releasing Cinelli was a close call, as it voted 6-0 in favor. Of those six (three appointed by Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and three by Republican governors), two were retired police officers and one worked in the Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department. In other words, it doesn’t sound like the board can be caricatured as a bunch of soft-on-crime types.
  • About 6,000 inmates are granted parole every year, which suggests that the county and state prison systems could be thrown into chaos if parole standards were tightened significantly.
  • Since 2005, according to Saltzman’s reporting, the board has granted parole to about two-thirds of those applying, and to somewhere between 27 percent and 40 percent of the lifers seeking parole, depending on the year.
  • Lifers and older inmates, Saltzman reports, tend to pose the lowest risk of recidivism. Cinelli was 57 when he shot Officer Maguire.

The death of Jack Maguire, a 60-year-old policeman on the verge of retirement, is a terrible tragedy. Back in the 1980s, I covered Woburn for the Daily Times Chronicle, and though I did not know Maguire, I knew of him. I did know the future police chief, Philip Mahoney, an impressive, compassionate policeman who has served as an outstanding spokesman for his city’s grief this week.

It may well turn out that the Parole Board made a mistake in releasing Cinelli. We already know that it made a mistake by not giving the district attorney a chance to testify. But the issue is not as simple as locking up people like Cinelli and throwing away the key.

Based on the Globe’s reporting, it appears that inmates whose past crimes were as serious as Cinelli’s are released regularly, and that society benefits. The investigation that’s now under way is the right way to go, and the media should give it a chance to play out — as they seem to be doing so far. The situation calls for intelligent analysis, not a witch hunt.

33 thoughts on “Parole in police officer’s murder not so easy

  1. Mary-Ellen Manning

    Part of the “intelligent analysis” should include the fact that our Governor appointed an unqualified member to the Parole Board, who is now sitting as the Chairperson. This individual had absolutely no experience or education in parole. When asked what the Governor’s philosophy is regarding parole at his appointment hearing, former police officer Mark Conrad stared blankly, having no idea. When asked what standards he would be applying to evaluate whether someone should be paroled, he said, “if you look into my heart, you will see that I am a good person.” After a year on the Board, he was made Acting Chair, without, by the way, a nomination to the Chairman’s post by the Governor or approval by the Council. Articles were written at the time that his “qualifications” included being involved in the Governor’s campaign. Articles have been written about him since his usurpation of the Chair that he is more concerned with issuing team pins to the Parole Board members and buying new furniture for his office (sound familiar?) rather than devoting himself to the serious business of parole. Now that Officer Maguire’s murder has awakened the public…just what is Governor Patrick’s and the Parole Board’s philosophy and standards regarding parole? Anyone?

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Mary-Ellen: In reading your comment, you seem to be saying that Conrad made his “look into my heart” remark in trying to explain his philosophy regarding when someone should be paroled. Yet, according to the Boston Globe (June 13, 2007), that is not how you characterized his comment at the time:

      During Conrad’s confirmation hearing last week, Mary-Ellen Manning, a member of the Governor’s Council, said she peppered Conrad about his qualifications and the parole philosophy of the new administration.

      “He kept saying to me if I just opened my heart and saw what a good person he was that I would see that he would do a good job,” Manning said. “That’s an unsatisfactory response when we are dealing with public safety.”

      So he was asking you to look into your own heart, not his; and he was talking about his qualifications to sit on the board, not his philosophy in granting parole. Those seem like pretty major differences.

      In addition, although the Conrad appointment received a great deal of criticism, that criticism came mainly from prisoner-rights advocates, who worried that too many people with law-enforcement backgrounds were being appointed to the board, and that Conrad might be too tough, not too soft.

      In any event, Conrad was just one of six Parole Board members who voted unanimously to grant parole to Dominic Cenilli. If releasing him was a mistake, that mistake was certainly not Conrad’s alone. I look forward to your telling us how you voted on confirming each of the six board members who were in office at the time of Cenilli’s parole.

      Unfortunately, the Globe story I found is now hidden behind a paywall. If you’re a subscriber, you should be able to call it up here.

  2. Mary-Ellen Manning

    The way I have put it to you is the way I remember it. I will have to listen to the tape to be sure. I don’t think that the distinction you make goes to the “heart” of the matter, which is that Acting Parole Board Chair Conrad had no answer for what the standards of parole should be nor what Goveror Patrick’s parole philosphy is. I can assure you that I did not vote against him because he was going to be too tough on crime. I voted against him because he knew nothing about parole. This was the same reason I voted against Michel. To your other point, I voted No on Conrad, Michel and Dottridge and Yes on Lombardini, Merigan, Munoz and Archilla.

  3. Mary-Ellen Manning

    I posted an exact reproduction of my June 13, 2007 statement on facebook regading my vote against Parole Board Chair Mark Conrad, and would do so here, if I knew how. But here is the statement, sans signature:

    STATEMENT OF COUNCILLOR MARY-ELLEN MANNING
    The parole system is a multi-million dollar enterprise impacting public safety more than any other taxpayer-funded initiative. There is no greater concern to the public than the release of known criminals into their midst.
    Why then, did the Patrick administration not take the time to interview this nominee to the Parole Board? Why was this nominee not apprised of the Patrick administration’s parole philosophy?
    One might conclude that the Patrick administration has no parole policy, and that it believes that any person of high moral character, such as Mark Conrad, would be able to make the correct decisions having huge ramifications on public safety without any guidance.
    It is always difficult to decline to support a nominee. It is never difficult for me to put the needs of the public ahead of the interests of an individual nominee.
    The laissez faire approach of the Patrick administration to the make up of the Parole Board and the public safety concerns impacted should cause great concern.

    [So, that’s what I had to say in 2007. And that’s what I have to say today….]

  4. Neil Sagan

    There’s an issue I’d like to reconcile and that is the behavior of Cinelli in prison.

    I read in today’s Globe editorial and elsewhere about Cinelli’s drug use and other behavior in prison that would make him a bad candidate for parole.

    In Cinelli parole report it says his record of behavior in jail from 1999 to 2008 was excellent in that, he stopped using drugs, stopped fighting and exhibited other behavior indicative of reform.

    It seems to me ironing out this this point is essential in assessing whether the parole board complied with its own standards in making the evaluation.

    Also, each member of the parole board votes based on their judgment (or so I hope.) Any argument that claims one member is responsible for this decision is absurd on its face.

  5. BP Myers

    No surprise that a governor who wrote letters pleading for the release of a convicted rapist sets a tone allowing just such things to occur.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @BP: I assume you’re referring to the case of Benjamin LaGuer, and if that’s so, all I can say is you’ve got to be kidding. Many, many people believed LaGuer was innocent. According to Wikipedia, and I’m pretty sure the timeline is correct, Patrick petitioned the Parole Board in 1998 and 2000, and contributed financially to LaGuer’s DNA testing. LaGuer flunked his DNA test in 2002 (whoops!), and there is no record of Patrick saying anything in support of LaGuer after that date.

  6. Neil Sagan

    “No one said that only one member is responsible for the decision.”

    Can you provide some context for your discussion with Dan above?

  7. The outcome of the investigation of the Parole Board is likely to turn on how it dealt with crimes committed by Cinelli on those occasions when he was on release status. I agree that the Board should not have a flat policy of refusing to parole an inmate based upon simply the seriousness of the crime that got him into prison in the first place. I further believe that the Board should look askance, with critical examination, of alleged offenses committed while the inmate was incarcerated (because it is so easy to set-up an inmate – other prisoners do it, guards do it – and so I rarely believe a charge of infraction of some prison rule). But when an inmate commits new crimes while on furlough or release, that tells us something about the inmate’s inability to live by the rules in free society. That’s where the line should get drawn on parole. This is the category of prisoners undeserving of trust. We simply cannot be blind to experience, or else the whole concept of parole will collapse.

  8. BP Myers

    @Neil Sagan said: I assume this is a critical piece of documentation against which we can measure the judgment of those who voted to parole Cinelli.

    No. Apparently, all we have to do is “open our hearts.”

    Whatever the hell that means.

  9. Neil Sagan

    BP Myers, That’s a cheap shot. For one, we know the parole board – all of them not just one – examines the convicts behavior in prison for clear indications that they have reformed their ways. In this case, Cinelli had gotten himself clean from substance abuse and had not been cited for fighting in prison from 1999 to 2008. Plus, we already knew the “look into their heart” intuition-based judgment technique doesn’t work when Bush misread Putin and was was taken to the cleaners. You good at snark but not much else.

  10. Mike Benedict

    “It may well turn out that the Parole Board made a mistake in releasing Cinelli.”

    Umm, not to be glib, but doesn’t “dead police officer” pretty much scream “mistake?”

    1. Dan Kennedy

      Come on, @Mike. Clearly I mean “mistake” in terms of deviating from proven, successful guidelines. A predictable, preventable mistake, in other words.

  11. LFNeilson

    This raises the question of what a prison sentence is supposed to accomplish — punishment, correction or protection of society. Even if you take the story Cinelli’s line to the parole board that he was a different person, there’s still punishment and protection. This guy had a long record. Three strikes? He had more than a dozen. He had shot a cop before. I’d say he was a good liar, too.

    Sadly, 20/20 hindsight won’t help Officer Maguire. But a review of parole standards might help protect the public from a future Cinelli.

  12. Mary-Ellen Manning

    You might be interested in some of Conrad’s other responses to my questions, as reported at the time in the State House News Service:

    “… Conrad said he has “a passion, a zest, a zeal that can’t be measured in this room,” adding, “You just don’t understand how committed I am to this cause.”

    Conrad said he is empathetic with prisoners, and has a brother who has suffered from mental illness and been in trouble for marijuana possession. “Even as a law enforcement person, I didn’t feel that he needed to be locked up,” Conrad said….

    Conrad said he would make parole decisions based on principles of “fairness,” saying, “I’m not going to make the right decision all the time.”

    Pressed for an express threshold for parole, Conrad said, “There needs to be a sense of remorse, but that should not be the only determining factor.”…

  13. BP Myers

    @Neil Sagan said: That’s a cheap shot.

    No, it’s a direct quote.

    Anyway, I was going to concede your overall point, but then:

    @Neil Sagan said: You good at snark but not much else.

    I’m a good proofreader too.

  14. MJ Coughlin

    @Dan, this a very reasonable assessment. It serves no one well to jump to conclusions.

    Its clear that the vast majority of parole releases turn out well. We have to see what might have gone wrong in this case before rushing to judgment.

    It is disappointing to read a few of the snarky (I agree with Neil Sagan) comments above.

    Everyday law enforcement and human service officials make decisions that impact the safety of the community based on the best information available. It is not an exact science but most of those decisions are sound. We tend to focus on the very small number of cases, like this one, that lead to tragedy. Those involved in this decision deserve the benefit of the doubt until all the facts are known.

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  16. Neil Sagan

    Thank you Paul Hutch. One way to gauge the performance of
    the Parole Board is to compare their standard for deciding to
    parole a prisoner to the case of Cinelli and see if they met their
    own guideline, and if so whether the guidelines need to be written
    to contemplate prisoners like Cinelli. As has been said before
    there is risk in releasing prisoners on parole and greater risk
    releasing prisoners with a record of lethal violence but unless we
    can decide upon a standard then we have no hope of releasing
    reformed prisoners to freedom and keeping violent unreformed
    criminals locked up.

  17. Dan Farnkoff

    Was this the first guy to turn around and kill someone
    after being paroled? The fact is that parole and recidivism will
    never be an exact science, though hindsight is always
    20/20.

  18. Neil Sagan

    “A lifelong heroin addict” David Wedge writes about Cinelli, and yet the parole board’s report on Cinelli was that he stopped his drug use in 1999 for nine years before he was released.

    What the Herald article doesn’t say is what the report says, that Cinelli was released because he had shown clear indicators of reform, arguably sufficient indications to get a unanimous vote for release.

    I’m not arguing that the decision to release him was a good one, I’m saying that the stories about the issue seem to ignore some inconvenient facts that were weighed in the decision, inconvenient to people who have already decided it is the chairman who is responsible for the bad decision not the other parole board members who similarly voted for Cinelli’s release.

    I think the appropriate response is to look at the criteria the board uses and see if the board applied it. If they did not, they should suffer consequences. If they did apply it, then the criteria need to be updated to contemplate ppl like Cinelli. Regrettably, this result will not happen in this climate. It would if more ppl headed Dan’s advise.

  19. L.K. Collins

    Heaven’s to Murgatroyd! I agree with Mikey on this. This screams mistake! (I wonder if he will ever get over my concurrence.)

    Dan, Your collation of sources and presentation of the issue was rather good.

    The first difficult step is determining the real reasons for the mistake occurring. There will likely be a lot of ducking and weaving since no pol wishes to be in the cross-hairs, and the Parole Board is populated with them.

    The second, and more difficult step, will be in structuring a any adjustments in a way to make sure they work or so that mistakes are caught in time to prevent the mistake from having serious consequences.

    I am wondering if there will be the political will to take either.

  20. Mike Benedict

    @ben: In my opinion, Joan Vennochi epitomizes the lazy columnist. This piece, like so much of her work, offers no data, no research, no analysis, no answers or suggestions for moving forward.

    Unfortunately, she is the norm, not the exception.

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  22. Rick Peterson

    @Mike: There is indeed hope for the New Year, I agree with you twice in one thread.
    @DK:I am struck by your point above that “society benefits” from the current system. Regarding that,”The Innocence Project” attempts to prevent wrongful executions. Fair enough. The histories of those saved should be part of the context, as well as those wrongly executed. Compare them to equally innocent victims (more so IMHO) that will be just as dead from the actions of people like Cinelli. Other than poorly-supported victim advocates at the DA’s offices, it doesn’t seem like the truly innocent victims get comparable, results-based support. “Better to let a dozen guilty people go than to wrongly convict one”? Nice in the abstract. Practically, I’m not so sure. Tell that to the victim of the guilty guy, that his life is worth less than that of a person already “in the system”. I thought that “all men are created equal”? How many innocents are murdered annually just in drive-by’s compared to wrongful executions? We are finally coming to grips with the real cost of being healthy. Doesn’t it make sense to discuss just as much the cost for us to remain safe from crime?

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Rick: Society benefits when the system works. What we still don’t know is (1) whether the Parole Board was in compliance with its own policies when it voted to release Cinelli and (2) whether those policies need to be revised. We can’t let everyone out, but we also can’t let no one out. If we had good statistics, was letting Cinelli out a 1-in-100 risk? (Obviously unacceptable.) A 1-in-100,000 risk? (Maybe acceptable.) We don’t know that yet.

      Globe columnist Larry Harmon has a great piece today suggesting that Cinelli would likely not have been released under the statistical analysis that the board has been using since 2009. (Remember, the board voted to release Cinelli in 2008.) Harmon writes:

      He [Cinelli] was a walking advertisement for parole denial. Common sense alone should have flagged him. But in fairness, the board in 2008 didn’t have the predictive model it needed to see that Cinelli was probably more dangerous to society than many people in prison for more serious offenses, including murder.

      It may well turn out that the board should have known better than to release Cinelli. What I object to is simplistic, “any idiot should have known” reactions given that a bipartisan board tilted toward law enforcement voted unanimously to release him, and when statistics suggest serious, violent criminals are not necessarily a bad risk for parole.

      And let’s not forget that any policy you choose will have at least some bad consequences. If you are going to deny parole to large numbers of inmates who now receive it, you’re going to need more prisons, you’re going to have more overcrowding and you’re running a greater risk of violence inside those prisons and of escapes. By preventing Officer Maguire’s murder, you may be inadvertently creating conditions that lead to the deaths of prison guards and others.

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