Rollins: Lock him up

Whether you call it a Nixon-goes-to-China moment or just an example of the shades of grey that color lots of criminal justice issues, Rachael Rollins is making news in a surprising way: The reform-minded Suffolk district attorney, who is part of a national wave of progressive prosecutors calling for a turn away from the tough-on-crime policies of recent decades, is railing against judges who have gone soft on a defendant facing a murder and gun charge.

In a case involves William Utley, a Boston man facing several violent charges who was released earlier this month with a GPS ankle bracelet by a Superior Court judge because of the heightened risk of coronavirus in correctional facilities. Utley is suffering from leukemia, for which he was receiving treatment, and his attorney said he would be particularly vulnerable to the effects of coronavirus infection.

Days after his release the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that some pretrial defendants could be released because of the coronavirus risks in jails and prisons. Rollins applauded the April 3 SJC decision. “I am grateful for the speed with which the SJC made its decision. Lives are a stake and every hour matters,” she said in a statement following the ruling.

But Rollins says Utley, who was out on bail on a firearm charge when arrested for a 2018 fatal stabbing in Grove Hall bar, is not someone suitable for release. The April 3 SJC ruling excluded those charged with many violent offenses.

Rollins’s office opposed the Superior Court judge’s order, and last week she asked a single justice of the SJC to issue an emergency ruling returning Utley behind bars.

“I fully understand the risk that COVID-19 poses to everyone, including people who are incarcerated,’’ Rollins said in a statement last week. “Mr. Utley, however, is accused of murdering someone while he was on pre-trial release for firearm charges and while on GPS monitoring. In addition to committing murder, in a separately charged incident he was also arrested for his 5th OUI, again, all while on pre-trial release with a GPS monitor for the aforementioned firearm charges.”

Yesterday, SJC Justice Elspeth Cypher rejected Rollins’s petition and allowed Utley to remain free. “The defendant faces a high risk of critical illness or death if he were to contract COVID-19,” she wrote. Cypher also said the DA’s evidence on on the firearm and second-degree murder charges “does not appear strong.”

Rollins called the ruling “disappointing” and said, “I stand proudly by my team’s extraordinary effort to address threats to the safety of our communities in Suffolk County.”

Rollins has always maintained that her progresive reform agenda is aimed at ensuring public safety while also recognizing the harms done by tough-on-crime era policies to those involved in the criminal justice system. That invariably involves making lots of tough judgments calls, something she alluded to earlier this month in lauding the SJC decision to allow release of some inmates.

“I will always balance the important rights and needs of victims and survivors and the safety of our communities while remembering that no one in the pre-trial or post-conviction population was held in anticipation of, or sentenced to, death,” she said.

MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld takes a different stance on the sale of recreational marijuana than Gov. Charlie Baker. (CommonWealth) His position also puts him at odds with ML Strategies, the lobbying firm where he works. (CommonWealth)

Virus notes: President Trump slams state mutineers….AG Maura Healey warns debt collectors….COVID-19 cases in state prisons on rise….Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson says released detainees committed crimes. (CommonWealth)

Healey is also calling on automobile insurers to lower premiums because no one is on the road. (Boston Globe)

At a virtual State House hearing, economists and lawmakers grapple with “unprecedented times” as they anticipate an enormous state budget challenge amidst plummeting revenue. (CommonWealth)

Massachusetts state troopers went to New York to escort a shipment of personal protection equipment to the airport for delivery to Massachusetts. (WBUR)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Enterprise collaborated with the UMass Donahue Institute to show how race, poverty and COVID-19 correlate in the state’s largest cities and towns.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The Treasury Department has ordered that President Trump’s name be printed on the $1,200 stimulus checks being sent to millions of Americans, a move that one official said will cause a delay of a few days in getting the money to people. (Washington Post)

Trump’s decision to halt US funding for the World Health Organization is drawing widespread condemnation, including from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who said freezing the funding during a world health crisis “is as dangerous as it sounds.” (New York Times)

Trump is overseeing a massive expansion of government-paid health care, an approach he has spent years railing against, with some conservatives worried about whether the moves will be easily rolled back. (Politico)

LIVING WITH CORONAVIRUS

Volunteers working from home are keeping the Talking Information Center in Marshfield on the air, broadcasting important programs and information for people with low vision. (Patriot Ledger)

Many are turning to gardening — to grow food, flowers and to reduce stress. (Salem News)

ELECTIONS

Joe Biden — remember him? Former president Barack Obama endorsed the man who served as his vice president for eight years in a video message released yesterday. (New York Times) This morning, Elizabeth Warren followed suit. (Boston Globe)

Candidates campaigning for office now have to be creative. Ed Markey and Joe Kennedy have taken their campaigns for US Senate online and have become information distributors during the COVID-19 crisis. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

The Supreme Judicial Court will hear arguments tomorrow in a suit brought by three candidates seeking to lower the nominating signature requirements to appear on the state ballot this fall. (Boston Globe)

EDUCATION

New Bedford and Dartmouth cancel April school vacation (Standard-Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Nearly two-thirds of the veterans living at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home have been infected with coronavirus, and 36 have died so far. (MassLive)

Gov. Charlie Baker toured a field hospital at Joint Base Cape Cod intended for expected patient surge. (Cape Cod Times)

Harvard president Lawrence Bacow and his wife Adele Fleet Bacow, both recovering from COVID-19, donated blood as part of efforts to use antibodies of recovered patients to help develop a vaccine or treatments for the disease. (Boston Globe)

The state approves higher pay for nursing home workers, whose ranks have been severely depleted by coronavirus. (Boston Globe) New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu also approves an increase in pay for nursing home workers and orders mandatory testing of all frontline nursing home workers in two counties. (Eagle-Tribune)

Nursing home operators in the state say there is a desperate need for wider coronavirus testing of residents. (MassLive)

The two largest field hospitals, DCU Center in Worcester and the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, are now caring for patients with COVID-19. (WGBH)

ARTS/CULTURE

Six of Boston’s top cultural institutions say they need a huge infusion of federal aid to survive. (CommonWealth)

ArtsWorcester tries to bring its art experience online. (Telegram & Gazette)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Sightings of endangered North Atlantic right whales off the Massachusetts coast are prompting calls for ships to slow their speed to avoid hitting the animals. (Gloucester Daily Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Boston police officer Jose Fontanez, 53, died of complications of COVID-19, the city’s first police officer to die from the virus. (Boston Herald)

MEDIA

An allegation of sexual assault against Joe Biden presents a challenge to the media, says Media Nation’s Dan Kennedy.

OBITUARIES

John Moss, longtime Herald News cops reporter, has died. (Herald News)