SALEM - Relatives of a Salem man shot to death 20 years ago are outraged by the state Parole Board's decision to release admitted killer Charles "Chucky" Doucette at the end of the month.
"I don't get it," said Margaret Spenlinhauer, the aunt of Raymond Bufalino, who was shot in the head by Doucette as he sat in his car near Harmony Grove Cemetery on the Salem-Peabody line on Feb. 21, 1987. "It really is a travesty of justice. My nephew did nothing wrong."
Last month, the board voted 4-2 to grant parole to Doucette, who has served 15 years of a life term for second-degree murder - one of seven consecutive life terms he received as part of a plea agreement in 1991 on the eve of a retrial. Doucette is scheduled to be released from prison Jan. 30.
Bufalino was injured working for Doucette's father at a gas station on Canal Street and filed a workers' compensation claim, only to discover that the elder Doucette did not carry the legally required insurance. Chucky Doucette tried to persuade Bufalino to waive his claim, but Bufalino refused. Subsequently, Doucette approached Bufalino as he sat in his car and shot him twice.
Salem police Capt. Paul Tucker, who investigated the murder, called it "a brutal crime" that shattered a young family.
The Essex County District Attorney's Office strongly opposed Doucette's request for parole during a hearing last October, where members of Bufalino's family, including his widow and a son who was just 9 months old when Bufalino died, also spoke in opposition.
"I can't believe the decision," said Shauna Rollins of North Andover, Bufalino's wife. She was just 26 when she was left a widow by the killing. "Being at the parole hearing, the way they were questioning him and grilling him made me feel like they were not going to let him out. I felt for sure they were going to deny him parole."
Arguing against freeing Doucette, prosecutors cited not only the murder but his criminal activities while awaiting trial. Doucette committed two home invasions, in Lynnfield involving a family grieving the death of a young son and in Peabody, in which a stun gun was used.
Assistant District Attorney Elin Graydon told the Parole Board Doucette "defines a career criminal" who "committed all of the crimes in these cases in a self-absorbed quest for money."
"He does whatever criminal act he chooses to do, regardless of the consequences to the victims or to himself," Graydon wrote in a letter to the board last fall.
"His current explanations for his crimes, especially the murder, lack any remorse," Graydon said. "Rather, he seems to claim that the first shot was an accident, and he does not explain the second shot."
'Problems with anger'
The Parole Board, however, appears to have accepted, at least in part, Doucette's claim that the shooting was unplanned, saying, "The men began to argue and Mr. Doucette pulled out his revolver. The argument ended with the victim being shot in the head."
The board also pointed to Doucette's participation in "a variety of rehabilitation programs" while acknowledging that Doucette has "experienced problems with anger," including his involvement in a 2005 racially motivated fight with Hispanic inmates.
The board acknowledged that in 2005 he was denied admission to a program called the Correctional Recovery Academy because of a low score on the "recidivism and needs assessment" sections of the application. But the board decided Doucette "has strong family and community support" and "his release at this time is not detrimental to the welfare of society."
The two members who voted against parole said the murder was "particularly heinous" and noted Doucette's continued minimization of his actions, including his claim that the victim "raised his arm and then frustration overrode common sense."
"Mr. Doucette's criminal behavior while on bail is particularly disturbing," the dissenting members wrote. "Mr. Doucette admits that his motive for committing the home invasions was for money to pay for his defense lawyer."
A jury convicted Doucette of first-degree murder in 1988, but the next day, Judge John Ronan set aside the verdict, an unusual decision that the district attorney's office appealed. The Supreme Judicial Court later reinstated the verdict. Then, Doucette filed a motion for a new trial, which Ronan granted.
While out on $25,000 cash bail, he participated in the home invasions in the fall of 1991.
On Dec. 3, 1991, Doucette offered to plead guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder and the two home invasions and was sentenced to seven concurrent life terms for the multiple charges he faced in the three crimes.
About six years into those terms, Doucette tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his guilty pleas, claiming that he had been forced to plead guilty in 1991 because his lawyer did not have enough time to prepare the case for trial.
Bufalino's aunt, who lives in Hingham, said she doesn't believe Doucette is reformed, pointing to his prison record and his effort to withdraw his pleas.
"Suddenly this man has an epiphany, without any help, and has reformed?" Spenlinhauer said. "This wasn't in a fit of anger. This was premeditated."
Rollins said she lives with the pain every day, "but I've learned to put it in the background and move on."
"I've decided it's not going to ruin my life again. It did once," said Rollins, who has remarried. "I'm not going to dwell on it, and I'm not going to live in fear."