, Salem, MA

Local News

February 23, 2007

Recent cases have Parole Board under the spotlight

SALEM - Twenty years ago, Charles "Chucky" Doucette shot a man in the head and killed him. While out on bail, he committed two home invasions. In 1991, he was sentenced to seven consecutive life terms.

Doucette, 48, was released from Bridgewater State Hospital earlier this month, having convinced the state Parole Board he will not commit any more crimes.

Family members of Raymond Bufalino, Doucette's victim in the 1987 shooting, are outraged.

"A life is a life," said Margaret Spenlinhauer, Bufalino's aunt. "How hard is it to understand that a life sentence should be a life sentence?"

When a person is convicted of second-degree murder, however, a life sentence doesn't always mean life. More than 200 people convicted of second-degree murder have been paroled since 2002, 33 of them last year. Nearly one-third of "lifers" who sought parole last year got it, and one in five, like Doucette, won parole on their first try.

Doucette is one of a number of high-profile North Shore murder cases that have brought the issue of parole back to the headlines. Last fall, Thomas Maimoni, convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Martha Brailsford in Salem Harbor, was denied parole. Susan Biancardi, a Beverly mother who pleaded guilty to shooting her 16-year-old daughter, is awaiting a decision on parole after a hearing last month.

So how does the Parole Board make a decision about who gets parole?

The board is supposed to base its decisions on two primary factors: the risk of reoffending and whether the release will compromise the welfare of society.

"They're not supposed to retry the case," said Peabody's Mary Ellen Manning, a member of the Governor's Council, which votes on appointments to the Parole Board. "But that's what's happening."

During highly emotional hearings, board members hear wrenching testimony from victims' families and from the offenders, often relying on facts that would never have been admitted at trial, Manning believes.

"They're in a position to sit as an uber-jury," she said.

While Manning was not familiar with all of the details of the Doucette case, she said it sounds from their decision as though there is some dispute among board members as to which version of the killing they accept.

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