Patrick signs sentencing reform bill

STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE

Gov. Deval Patrick on Thursday morning signed legislation eliminating parole eligibility for certain repeat violent offenders and making about 600 non-violent drug offenders immediately eligible for parole.

The bill-signing was not publicized by Patrick or listed on his public schedule for the day, but one of its chief proponents, Les Gosule, attended the signing in the governor’s office. 

“I saw it,” Gosule told the News Service at around 10:35 a.m.  “He signed it an hour ago.  I have the pen.  I have the pen. I have the pen.” 

Gosule has been pressing for a tougher sentencing law for repeat violent offenders since his daughter Melissa was raped and murdered in 1999 by a paroled criminal offender with 27 convictions on his record after her car broke down near the Cape Cod Canal. 

“I’m excited,” Gosule said.  “I’m jubilant. I feel great.” After struggling over how to respond to the bill when it reached his desk, Patrick last weekend returned it with an amendment giving judges some discretion in sentencing repeat violent offenders.

The Legislature on Monday rejected his amendment and Patrick decided to sign what he described as a “good bill” that he could have killed by vetoing it after formal legislative sessions ended for 2012 at midnight Tuesday. Critics of Patrick’s amendment said it would have gutted the bill, an assertion that Patrick called “wrong.”

“I know there are people on all sides of this issue,” Patrick said Tuesday after deciding he would sign the bill, noting only about six people per year would be affected by the habitual offender portion of the bill.

Patrick called on the Legislature to revisit mandatory minimum sentencing next session, saying “an awful lot of states” have moved away from it “after having done the homework, actually developed the data and done the cost-benefit analysis and that is what we are committed to do over the next several months.”

The governor’s decision to sign the bill thrilled its supporters, who say the so-called three strikes measure is an important public safety improvement and targets only the “worst of the worst.”

Critics of the habitual offender bill say it will disproportionately affect minorities and say the new law will worsen prison overcrowding.

A Patrick press aide confirmed that Gosule and Barbara Dougan, project director for Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), were present for the bill signing.

“After a thirteen year struggle to achieve this new public safety law, I want to first dedicate this victory to my daughter, Melissa. Melissa, this one’s for you. In your life, you always cared and did good things for others. May your death also bring some good to others through this new law,” Gosule wrote in his statement.

Gosule added, “To violent criminals and their apologists who complain that this law is too harsh, I say: ‘If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.’ If you don’t want to go to prison under this law, take responsibility for your actions and refrain from committing multiple acts of violence. It’s that simple.”

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Patrick on Tuesday said that the conference committee that developed the sentencing bill was “stalled out” about two months ago.

“I brought the chairs in to talk with them about getting their talks restarted and what we were looking for in a final bill,” Patrick said. “It’s not a perfect bill. It’s not a comprehensive bill. But it does some good.”