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Could somebody please explain the Massachusetts constitution to Hub Politics?

Regular visitors to Hub Politics might be forgiven for thinking that exactly 30 seconds after he takes his oath of office, Deval Patrick will jump into his limo and drive out to Shirley to personally free Benjamin LaGuer (and then point him in the direction of the white women).

Unfortunately for Hub Politics' finely developed sense of schadenfreude, Patrick could not unlock LaGuer's cell door on Jan. 1 even if he wanted to. Unlike, say, the governors of Texas or Alabama, Massachusetts governors can only recommend commutations to the Governor's Council, an elected holdover from pre-Revolution days that must approve all commutations (thanks to that pesky Part 2, Chapter II, Section I, Article VIII of the state constitution).

There are nine councilors - the lieutenant governor and councilors elected from eight districts across the state. The council doesn't always do what the governor wants. Just ask Norman Porter, who fled Massachusetts after the governor's council rejected Michael Dukakis's proposed commutation of a murder charge.


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I can only hope that the Gov. Elect will do the right thing.

But just in case he doesn't...

Wouldn't it be great to hear from the current councillors re: the hypothetical commutation of the convicted rapist?

Then any fears that anyone had could be put to rest.

Quick, without the help of the internet, who is your "elected rep" to the Executive Council?

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I started typing a reply by copying and pasting sections of the State Constitution that have been openly and obscenely violated in recent history, along with examples thereof, but WordPerfect ran out of memory and my PC burst into flames. Not that I think the "January 1 -> Limo -> Prison -> White Wimmens" example is at all likely, but let's not pretend a gross abuse of power by a Mass politician isn't an almost daily occurance. Fear of an angry public backlash is what will prevent the immediate Governer-endorsed release of said rapist/murderer, for at least a few months anyway.

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Thanks for bringing this up. I have noticed that some of the conservative blogs are starting to use the LaGuer case to raise the specter of Deval Patrick throwing the prison doors wide open the minute he's sworn in. What is missing from these posts, and what was missing during the campaign, was that LaGuer's case is currently in court. That's where the question of whether he deserves a new trial is currently being played out. NOT in the executive branch. I just went over to Hubpolitics and posted this. By the way, if you want to read my analysis of how the LaGuer case was used and misused in the governor's race I urge you to read my article in the Valley Advocate titled
The Anatomy of a Political Hit
. I also have a post at Blue Mass Group on the latest dust up over Joan Wallace-Benjamin.

(cross posted to Hub Politics)

I am glad to see that there is a two-sided debate at Hub Politics on LaGuer's actual guilt. (Which is a separate question from whether he got a fair trial. That question will be taken up by the SJC in January.)

Having researched the case I have come to the conclusion that not only did LaGuer not commit the crime, but the police overlooked a likelier suspect who went on to be charged with another rape and who is still living in the community. Does that make me a bleeding heart liberal? Absolutely not. It makes me someone who takes law enforcement and public safety seriously. As I argued on Hub Politics last August when the Boston Herald tried to smear Patrick for his comments on the LaGuer case, true conservatives are instinctively suspicious of government power. In this case, the Worcester legal establishment (long dominated by Democrats, by the way) has been going to extraordinary lengths to defend a bad conviction.

I'll be the first to acknowledge that the 2002 DNA test sealed the question of LaGuer's guilt in the minds of many people. I would be among them had I not taken a closer look at the case. The fact is, there is a growing awareness in the DNA expert community that just as in everything human beings do there is potential for error when it comes to forensic DNA. Don't get me wrong, it's an important tool and law enforcement has and will use it to good effect. But there are now dozens of case studies showing that the results are susceptible to mistakes through lab error, contamination and occasionally fraud. As the saying goes, The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance. So whether you are liberal, conservative or somewhere else on the spectrum, don't ever make the mistake of kissing away your Constitutional rights through a blind faith in supposedly scientific proclamations.

In LaGuer's case four highly reputable DNA experts have looked a the paper trail associated with the evidence and they have looked at the DNA reports (which are available in full at www.BenLaGuer.com) and concluded that contamination is the best explanation for how the results turned out. One of them had this to say:

“In summary, there are numerous deficiencies in this case relating to the criminal investigation, evidence collection, evidence handling, evidence storage, chain of custody, serology testing, and DNA testing. The types of errors and mistakes in this case are the result of individuals not adhering to the accepted standards and practices of criminal investigation and forensic laboratory testing.”

- Dean A. Wideman, certified forensic consultant.

So whatever your political leanings, always view the government with suspicion. I think if you take a hard and honest look at this case you will agree that LaGuer deserves a new trial. After all, the commonwealth hid a State Police generated report from him at the time of trial that showed there were four fingerprints found on the base of the trimline telephone, the cord of which was used to bind the victim's wrists and that they belonged to someone other than LaGuer. Under our system of justice (which I wouldn't want to trade for any in the world) that is just plain unacceptable.

If you oppose a new trial that means you are for saying it is okay for the government to hide key and potentially exculpatory evidence. If that is the kind of country you want to live in, then God help you. A new jury at a new trial will have every opportunity to examine the DNA and any other evidence the commonwealth wants to introduce. It will also have the right and indeed duty to reconvict LaGuer if that is their conclusion.

By the way, for those who don't know this already, the lawyer who is working for free to argue LaGuer's case in the upcoming SJC hearing on January 4, 2007 is a guy named James C. Rehnquist. His father was the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist, one of the towering figures in conservative jurisprudence of the latter part of the 20th century. So before you join in the political spinning that characterized how all sides used this case in the campaign, ask yourself what it means to be an American, and what the right to a fair trial might mean to you or someone you love some day.

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I would believe the DNA reports if there were not multiple experts, one even from Harvard University who teaches this science, saying that the results are not reliable. I am no expert in this field, so I yeild to those who seem to have the highest credentials. I would trust in the validity of the samples if the chain of custody was unbroken, and had been managed securely, but they were not. In fact, the evidence in this case was so poorly managed it is now a sideshow, with evidence disappearing and appearing without explanation. Nothing was taken from Ben LaGuer's house, yet we suddenly find three pairs of underwear marked as his, labeled with a date that is after he was already convicted. A fingerprint report done on the trimline phone was "lost"...for 18 years. One that showed someone else must have ripped the phone off the wall, as they were not Ben's. The police had a likelier suspect that had a history of mental illness that involved sexually assualting his family members. This man not only admitted to people that he was the assailant, but he went on to rape someone else. He took a plea bargain and served only 59 days in jail. Ben Laguer could have taken a plea. His was for two years, but he was sure the truth would come out and he would be proven an innocent man. He still had the same faith when he went to the parole board and told them he was innocent, and they kept him in longer because of this refusal to admit guilt. Why would a guilty man stay in jail for 23 years when he could have gotten out in 2? The answer is obvious to me; he IS innocent. All he is asking for is a new trial so that all the questions surrounding this case can be answered. If he is truly guilty, he is not going anywhere. If he is innocent, we need to correct this wrong post haste.

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