SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

February 21, 2011

State parole system called a 'sad mess'

Governor's councilor says 'Chucky' Doucette case points to need for reform

By Julie Manganis
Staff writer

SALEM — Two recent instances in which men paroled from multiple life sentences went on to re-offend has one member of the Governor's Council questioning whether Massachusetts needs to scrap the entire parole system.

Mary Ellen Manning, who represents the North Shore on the board that approves judicial and Parole Board appointments, said yesterday that the current system "is a sad mess" that ought to be replaced with something similar to the federal parole system.

And sentencing ought to be done within strict guidelines, she believes.

The arrest last week of Charles "Chucky" Doucette, 51, of Peabody on domestic abuse charges has again raised questions about the state Parole Board's controversial 2006 decision to grant Doucette parole.

Doucette will be in Salem District Court on Thursday, where prosecutors will ask a judge to keep him locked up until trial on charges that he dragged his girlfriend down the street with his car and threatened to shoot her if she made a complaint.

If convicted, he's facing a return to state prison as well, where he could end up serving out the rest of his life sentence.

Doucette was serving seven life sentences for the execution-style shooting of Raymond Bufalino in Salem 1987, and a pair of home invasions he committed while out on bail awaiting a retrial.

His second-degree murder conviction came as the result of a plea bargain struck by prosecutors, who were concerned about retrying Doucette in front of the same judge who had already set aside Doucette's original, first-degree murder conviction following a trial.

Under Massachusetts law, a second-degree murder conviction makes someone parole-eligible after 15 years.

Doucette made parole on his first try and was released in 2007, over the objections of not only two members of the Parole Board, but Essex County prosecutors, who argued against his release.

Manning said at the time that she believed the Parole Board had overstepped its legal authority, essentially retrying the case and accepting Doucette's claim that the Bufalino shooting was accidental — even though he never explained why an accidental shooting would involve two gunshot wounds to the head.

Prosecutors had alleged that the shooting was intended to prevent Bufalino from pursuing a claim against Doucette's father, the owner of a Salem gas station where the victim worked and was injured on the job.

And while out on bail awaiting his retrial, Doucette engaged in two violent home invasions — later claiming to the Parole Board that he needed the money to pay legal bills.

Manning said the case of Doucette, whom, she says, should not have been paroled, and that of Dominic Cinelli, another career criminal who was killed in a shootout that also left a veteran Woburn officer dead the day after Christmas, show deep flaws in the parole system.

"There's too much discretion at both the sentencing level and at the parole level," said Manning. "There's a lack of uniformity in the way people are sentenced and paroled."

And mistakes can, as in the case of Cinelli, be lethal. "I don't think the public can stomach any more mistakes," said Manning.

She would like to see the current sentencing and parole system replaced with one that requires defendants to serve a sentence in full, followed by a period of supervised release, such as is done in the federal court system.

That way, a convicted offender would still be under supervision for a period of time, but there would be some consistency in the way people are sentenced.

Paul Gormley, a Marblehead lawyer, adjunct professor of criminal justice at North Shore Community College and a doctoral student in law and public policy at Northeastern University, said that the system still needs a certain amount of flexibility.

For one thing, the idea that parole is possible gives some inmates a greater incentive to behave in prison, as well as to participate in whatever rehabilitation programs are available, said Gormley.

Gormley concedes that there are defendants who "can game the system," but said that hard and fast rules about sentencing take away any ability to recognize someone who has made genuine efforts to redeem himself.

"We can't say what anyone's going to be like, with any certainty, in the future," said Gormley.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or at jmanganis@salemnews.com.