November 21, 2007

The New Willie Horton? Not Quite

Mitt Romney has had a tough week. Just days after someone push-polled Iowans in an ugly display of bigotry, a new attack has floated into the blogosphere regarding Romney's judicial nominations as Governor in Massachusetts. One of his appointments, Kathe Tuttman, released a violent offender on his own recognizance on an assault complaint -- and the suspect promptly fled to Washington and killed a young newlywed couple:

The father of a Washington woman slaughtered along with her new husband - allegedly at the hands of a convicted Bay State killer - said his daughter’s accused murderer never should have been released from prison here.

“It’s because of stupidity in Massachusetts that my daughter is dead,” said Darrel Slater, 55, who is preparing to bury his daughter, Beverly Mauck, 28, and her husband Brian Mauck, 30.

The couple was executed in their home in rural Graham, Wash., Saturday after an alleged argument with Daniel Tavares Jr., 41, who in 1991 pleaded guilty to hacking his mother to death with a carving knife in their Somerset home in served 16 years for that crime.

Tavares finished his sentence on June 14, but was immediately re-arrested on a warrant charging him with two counts of assaulting Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center prison guards during his troubled stint behind bars, Department of Correction officials said.

Worcester prosecutors requested $50,000 cash bail for each of those charges, an amount approved by Clinton District Court Judge Martha Brennan, according to court documents.

But Tavares appealed the bail and on July 16, Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman released him on personal recognizance. Tavares was freed and fled the state to marry and live in a Washington trailer with Jennifer Lynn Tavares, who met the convict at Walpole after answering an inmate personal ad. He defaulted on a July 23 court date, prosecutors said.

The e-mails I have received about this today, based on a report at Free Republic, call this Romney's Willie Horton event. Romney's opponents there and elsewhere claim these murders are a "direct result of Romney's liberal appointments to the bench," and a foretaste of what will come from a Romney presidency. Unfortunately, this is quite an exaggeration.

First, though, one cannot overstate the foolishness and outright stupidity of Judge Tuttman. Here we have a man who carved up his own mother charged with two more violent offenses of a milder variety just after his release from prison on the original charge. The $50,000 bail requested by prosecutors seems rather reasonable, perhaps even somewhat low. Sending him off on an OR basis is simply ludicrous, and Tuttman should answer for this strange decision.

This, however, differs from the Horton issue with Michael Dukakis in two important ways. First, judicial appointments in Massachusetts work very differently than at the federal level. As with New York City, a judicial panel recommends a few candidates for each opening to the Governor, who rarely if ever works outside the system. These candidates get reviewed by the panel through their records, but with their names removed, in order to ensure fairness. Tuttman would have appeared to be a good candidate; she had a good track record as a prosecutor, and had won convictions in some higher-profile cases.

Romney's critics then complained that he hadn't appointed more women to the bench. He pressed the Judicial Nominating Commission to provide more potential female candidates for appointments. This demonstrates that Romney had only small latitude in selecting these candidates.

The Horton incident stuck to Dukakis for other reasons. Horton raped a woman and stabbed her fiance after being released on a work-furlough program, even though he had already committed murder and had a life sentence. Dukakis had supported this program as governor, claiming it as an important tool for criminal rehabilitation, while critics castigated him and the state for allowing lifers with no possibility of release outside of clemency into the furlough program. (Horton had been sentenced to two consecutive life terms plus 85 years.) In fact, Dukakis had vetoed a bill prohibiting the entry of lifers into the rehab program -- which would have kept Horton behind bars where he belonged.

Romney's appointment in Tuttman certainly turned out badly, but one has to understand the context of that appointment. The nomination process has burdensome limits, and the selection of a successful prosecutor for that slot would certainly have given some confidence that the new judge would err on the side of caution from the bench. Tragically, that hope was dashed and two people have had their lives senselessly ended -- but that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the judge herself, and of course the murderer.


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» Romney’s “Willie Horton” moment? from Sister Toldjah
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