MARBLEHEAD — Two judges have found that Christopher Prew poses a danger to children and have ordered him held without bail.
The private youth hockey coach stands accused of molesting nine boys in two counties, and of orally raping one of those boys. He's been in custody since his arrest nearly two years ago by Marblehead police.
But as early as next week, Prew, 33, could be out of custody. That's because the state's highest court has concluded that in cases like Prew's, where no overt physical force was used, judges cannot consider a defendant's potential danger to the public in deciding whether to set bail.
The decisions that forced a Salem Superior Court judge to set bail for Prew Thursday have prompted calls for revisions to the state's bail law from prosecutors and from Gov. Charlie Baker, who has twice filed bills seeking to add child sexual abuse cases to the list of crimes that allow a judge to hold someone without bail.
The more recent of two Supreme Judicial Court rulings came in the case of a Lawrence police officer, Carlos Vieira, charged with meeting a 13-year-old boy for sex. In that case, the SJC concluded last month that indecent assault and battery is not one of the offenses that falls under a section of the law allowing a person to be denied the right to post bail.
In an earlier case, the SJC ruled that David Barnes, a man who at the time was charged with aggravated child rape after taking a teenage girl to an Amesbury hotel, could not be held without bail because force was not the aggravating factor.
Carrie Kimball, a spokeswoman for the Essex District Attorney's office, said Prew's case is the third high-profile Essex County case in which a defendant accused of sexually abusing a child has been released on bail as a result of the Supreme Judicial Court's two rulings.
"The Commonwealth, now constrained by the Barnes and Vieira decisions and the dire necessity for legislative action, finds itself unable to argue the dangerousness of a defendant charged with sexually assaulting eight children in Essex County and a ninth in Middlesex County," prosecutor Kate MacDougall said in a motion.
"He's been found dangerous by two judges," said Kimball outside court. "We still think that's the case. However, the law is such today that he cannot be held on the charges as indicted."
After the Vieira decision, Prew's attorney, Kelli Porges, filed a motion to reconsider bail.
Porges argued that "bail is not punitive. It's to ensure a person comes to court. He's been in jail for a year and a half. He has no means to flee."
"I can also tell the court that Mr. Prew adamantly maintains his innocence," Porges said. "This will be a trial."
She said that Prew comes from a "hard-working middle class family" to whom a high cash bail would be a hardship. Prew also faces $5,000 bail in Middlesex County and $15,000 bail in the Vermont case.
MacDougall and Porges had reached an agreement prior to Thursday's hearing that would have called for $5,000 bail, with conditions that include GPS monitoring, no unsupervised contact with children and a curfew. The only issue in dispute was where Prew would live: his attorney proposed letting him live with his parents in Winthrop, while the prosecutor opposed that, pointing to the witness intimidation conviction of Prew's mother, Louise Martino, this summer.
"I would not allow him to live with his mother," Judge Thomas Drechsler said during the hearing.
He also had concerns about the proposed amount of bail, $5,000.
"I have to be consistent with what I've done in other cases," said Drechsler. "He has an overwhelming incentive to flee," a 10-year mandatory minimum prison term if convicted of aggravated child rape.
Besides the aggravated child rape charge, Prew is charged with 14 counts of indecent assault and battery on a child and one count of attempted indecent assault and battery on a child.
He faces similar charges in Middlesex County and in Vermont, cases involving a boy from Newton.
MacDougall said New York officials are aware of an allegation against Prew in that state, but are waiting to see what happens in Massachusetts and Vermont before deciding whether to file charges.
"The peril he's facing here is overwhelming," said Drechsler, who then decided to set Prew's bail at $15,000, along with the conditions proposed by the prosecutor and defense.
DA: 'The law must be changed'
Besides GPS monitoring and a 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew, which will allow him to work for his stepfather's plumbing business during the day, Prew will be required to surrender his passport and any weapons he might own, report to a probation officer once a week, have no unsupervised contact with children and no contact at all with any of the victims or witnesses in his case, not work anywhere children are present, stay out of the town of Marblehead, and not leave the state except for court appearances in Vermont.
Prew will live with a relative, but the location will remain secret at the request of Porges, who asked the judge if she could disclose the identity of the person and his or her address at sidebar.
In a statement released after the hearing, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett again criticized the high court's two rulings.
“As District Attorney, it is my duty to protect the public," said Blodgett. "That duty drastically is impeded if the law does not allow my office to seek pre-trial detention under the dangerousness statute against individuals who rape and sexually assault children.”
“There is no other victim more vulnerable than a child," said Blodgett. "The law must be changed so that we may protect them from predators."
Before Prew is released from custody in Massachusetts, a probation officer will have to arrange for a GPS bracelet and visit the home where Prew will stay to ensure that it is suitable. Then, once bail is posted in the Essex and Middlesex cases, he will be handed over to Vermont authorities, who have a warrant.
Depending on a judge's decision on bail in that state, he would then return to Massachusetts to await trial.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis.