SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 3, 2014

Benton: Judicial picks continue to haunt Bay State

Nelson Benton
The Salem News

---- — The Bay State today may well have the distinction of possessing the nation’s most soft-on-crime judiciary, thanks to appointments made over the past seven years by Gov. Deval Patrick.

Last week’s Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court decision granting the possibility of parole to teens convicted of even the most gruesome crimes brought to mind the antics of the notorious “Bird court” in California. There, back in the 1970s and ’80s, a high court led by appointees of Gov. Jerry Brown refused to recognize the legality of the death penalty or laws that mandated jail time for crimes involving the use of a gun. Voters eventually became so fed up that in November 1986 they took the unprecedented step of removing Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird from office.

For years now this reporter has heard police officers and prosecutors grouse about the growing tendency of judges from the district-court level on up to give criminal defendants and their attorneys an outsized benefit of doubt when it comes to sentencing decisions. One might commit the crime, but these days, here in the commonwealth, it does not necessarily mean he or she will do the time.

The topper came this past Christmas Eve, when the SJC ruled that a group of young criminals sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole for the seriousness of their crimes, deserve a second bite of the apple. Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett was understandably outraged.

“We’re not talking about a kid stealing a car, or a drug ripoff,” Blodgett told reporters in the wake of the decision. “We’re talking about kids committing some of the most heinous crimes you can imagine.”

He added, “There are some crimes that are so abhorrent and so heinous a juvenile should be sentenced to life without parole. We don’t charge first-degree murder unless the facts are so heinous and horrible that it warrants a first-degree charge.”

He’s talking about crimes like the one committed by Alfred Brown, who was 15 years old when he used the rifle he’d been given as a gift to kill his parents and sister in their Topsfield home in 1978 after his mother asked to see his report card. At 15, 16 or 17, you’re old enough to know right from wrong, and society has a right to demand that teenagers capable of killing in cold blood be locked away for life.

Five of the seven justices of the state’s high court are Patrick appointees, as are scores of district and superior court judges. Their decisions will haunt the state long after the governor has departed the Statehouse next January.

---

Salem resident David Pelletier penned a terrific column for these pages this week exposing the hypocrisy of state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, D-Marblehead, the Conservation Law Foundation and their allies in opposing plans for a natural-gas-fired power plant in Salem to replace the one being decommissioned this year. For years they argued that being much cleaner than coal, a natural-gas plant would be a good alternative for meeting the region’s energy needs.

But wait: Now that such a plant is in the works, they’d prefer it go in somebody else’s backyard. Maybe they’d rather go nuclear which, after all, is the cleanest energy source available.

---

Datebook: On Thursday, Jan. 9, at 6:30 p.m. at the Vittori Rocci Post, the North Beverly Neighborhood Association will brief residents about the Feb. 8 referendum, which seeks to overturn the City Council’s decision that rezoned land at the intersection of Route 128 and Brimbal Avenue for commercial development.