Worcester Telegram & Gazette columnist Clive McFarlane took newly minted Worcester DA Joe Early Jr. to task today for hurriedly endorsing his predecessor's stance on the LaGuer case under the headline "Early Misses Chance to Eye Evidence Gaffe".
McFarlane, who was one of the few columnists to question the rush to judgment about LaGuer when Kerry Healey was pillorying Deval Patrick about the case during the campaign, applies the same reasoned approach to comments Early made after last week's SJC hearing. And McFarlane does it with a light touch, drawing Early out enough as to leave the door open to reviewing questions about the evidence chain of custody. It's a fine piece of journalism.
McFarlane ends on a positive note, inviting Early to really take a thorough look at this politically charged case:
I believe Mr. Early to be an honorable man. I believe he is being honest when he says he believes in the rights of even a guilty man to get a fair trial.The fact that the LaGuer case is so politically charged and that so many people are invested in how it is perceived, is all the more reason for Early to take a deliberate and careful look at the full sweep of how it has gotten to where it is now. IMHO Early would do well to appoint a panel made up of people with no agenda other than looking at claims of past prosecutorial misconduct in an open and unbiased way. The SJC last week heard arguments on a very circumscribed point of law. Regardless of where it comes down, this case cries out for a sweeping review. That would not only be good for the cause of justice for one man, but would build public confidence in the proposition that the law is administered without fear or favor, no matter how politically charged the case may be. Early needn't take on the baggage of his predecessor and he should not fear such a review and letting the chips fall where they may.
But I also believe he missed a golden opportunity to convince others of this by his failure to take a more measured look at the LaGuer case, and to at least launch an investigation into how the district attorney's office and the state police lab managed to keep possible exculpatory evidence from a defendant for more than 18 years.
This is some more of what McFarlane had to say:
"Less than a day after he said he did not know enough about the Ben LaGuer case to make an informed opinion, newly installed District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. boned up enough on the particulars to make it crystal clear that he supported his predecessor's handling of the case as well as its outcome.
OK. Maybe Mr. Early's position shouldn't come as a surprise. He is, after all, taking over an office in which many of the stalwarts of the previous administration still hold sway.
Still, you have to admit that even Evelyn Wood, the guru of speed reading, would have been impressed with Mr. Early's quick grasp of the case files and briefs in the LaGuer case, a case which has spanned some 23 years and eight new-trial motions. Keep in mind that one brief is usually some 50-odd pages long.
This is the same Mr. Early who on Tuesday of last week said he had not read any of the files or briefs in the case, and was waiting until after he had been sworn in to delve into the matter.
He was sworn in the following day, a day that was rightly solemn and celebratory, with lots of handshakes and light talk, but no heavy lifting, one would imagine.
Wrong. Apparently, Mr. Early found ample time among the swearing-in, the congratulations and the light introductory talks to get the measure of the Ben LaGuer case. He did this, he said, by huddling with the lawyers, including the lead attorney working the case.
He learned enough to issue the following statement later that night through his spokesman, Timothy J. Connolly: "The new district attorney shares the opinion of the previous district attorney that justice was done in this case and that the right person was convicted."
The state might or might not have convicted the right person, but what is not debatable is the absolutely sloppy way in which the case was prosecuted. There are several instances of questionable moves by the prosecution, but the one that stands out most clearly at the moment is of the state withholding a fingerprint report from the LaGuer defense lawyers during the trial....
....Those who were hoping the district attorney's office under Mr. Early would be different must have felt a chilling sense of déjÀ vu when he so quickly chose to endorse the former district attorney's handling of the LaGuer case. What was the rush?
"I am concerned about the chain of custody, but I am convinced that it (fingerprint report) did not change the cumulative evidence in this case," Mr. Early said. "The evidence was compelling and overwhelming."
Mr. Early admitted yesterday that he was not a complete novice (he had read newspaper and magazines stories) on the LaGuer case.
"I believe everyone, whether they are black or white, rich or poor, has a right to a fair trial," he said
"I am who I am. I have developed a good reputation in the legal community. My word is my bond. I will be tough on crime, while making sure everyone has a fair trial."
I believe Mr. Early to be an honorable man. I believe he is being honest when he says he believes in the rights of even a guilty man to get a fair trial.
But I also believe he missed a golden opportunity to convince others of this by his failure to take a more measured look at the LaGuer case, and to at least launch an investigation into how the district attorney's office and the state police lab managed to keep possible exculpatory evidence from a defendant for more than 18 years."