Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney suddenly faces questions about bicoastal tragedies involving three murder victims, a vicious killer, and a permissive judge he appointed who helped magnify this mayhem.
Daniel Tavares Jr., 41, pleaded guilty in 1991 to stabbing his mother fatally with a carving knife in their Somerset, Massachusetts home. While serving a 17 – 20-year sentence for that atrocity, Tavares allegedly punched one prison guard in the head and later spat on another while yelling “I’m going to kill you!” According to a Department of Corrections document cited by the Boston Herald, Tavares also “threatened to kill the governor [Romney], attorney general of MA, Bristol County Sheriff, and other law enforcement officials when released.” Nonetheless, he was freed last June 14 after just 16 years, thanks to “good time.”
Police immediately re-arrested Tavares to prosecute him for his alleged assaults on these corrections officers. But Kathe Tuttman, a Romney-nominated superior-court judge, rejected both a lower-court decision and prosecutors’ requests to hold Tavares on $50,000 bail. On appeal, Tuttman overlooked Tavares’s prison antics, as well as his eight prior drug and robbery busts. She released him on his own recognizance on July 16. Tuttman also spurned prosecutors’ wishes that Tavares wear a monitoring bracelet. “There is no indication,” she ruled, “that he is a risk of flight.” Tuttman ordered Tavares to report to a probation officer thrice weekly, work as a welder at Davon Steel, and move in with his sister in Dighton, Massachusetts.
Instead, Tavares skipped town, went west, and married Jennifer Lynn Freitas, 37, a woman he met on inmate.com with whom he corresponded while incarcerated. They lived in a trailer near Graham, Wash., some 40 miles south of Seattle.
On November 17, Tavares allegedly argued with two neighbors, Beverly Mauck, 28, and Brian Mauck, 30, a young couple who liked scuba diving and married in the Turks and Caicos Islands on May 5, 2006. Police say Tavares wrapped a .22-caliber revolver in a towel, kicked in the Mucks’ door, and then fatally shot each of them three times in the head. Detectives say they matched Tavares to a bloody palm print and shoe prints found in the Maucks’ home. According to police, Tavares confessed to these crimes.
“It’s because of stupidity in Massachusetts that my daughter is dead,” Beverly Mauck’s father, Darrel Slater, told the Herald. “How does a guy who killed his mother, get charged with more crimes, get out of jail? How can he leave the state?”
Romney stepped into this controversy Saturday.
Judge Tuttman’s decision ‘‘showed an inexplicable lack of good judgment in a hearing that decided to put someone on the street who had not only in the past been convicted of manslaughter, but had threatened the lives of other individuals and was a flight risk,’’ Romney told journalists while campaigning in Derry, N.H. ‘‘And I think on that basis, that despite her record as being a law-and-order prosecutor, her lack of judgment suggests that she needs to resign from that post.”
When Romney appointed Tuttman, however, he seemed more focused on gender issues than on law and order. Tuttman was one of four associate justices nominated in April 2006 — all women.
All four had prosecutorial experience. In fact, Tuttman, a registered Democrat, was an Essex County assistant district attorney who, among others, prosecuted Eugene McCollom. He pleaded guilty in 2005 to decapitating a prostitute and burying her on a beach in Nahant, Mass. Nonetheless, contemporaneous news accounts show that as it unveiled these judicial appointees, the Romney administration seemed singularly enthused about how these nominees helped it celebrate diversity.
Romney made “a concerted effort to find qualified women and minority candidates for the bench,” spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told the State House News Service on April 26, 2006. “For a long time, women and minorities didn’t even bother applying for judgeships because of the perception that the whole process was politically wired.” Fehrnstrom reportedly suggested that although none of these four women was a minority member, people should “stay tuned” for Romney to name judges of color. “The governor is interested in making sure that appointments to the bench, to the extent possible, reflect the diversity of the community at large,” Fehrnstrom said to the Boston Globe.
How might New Hampshire voters regard this development in their next-door neighbor’s presidential bid? Some may see this as further evidence that “Laxachusetts”’s leniency jeopardizes their safety. In a November 14, 2006, editorial, the New Hampshire Union-Leader complained: “When thugs commit crimes in Massachusetts, too often it is New Hampshire that gets punished.” The paper explained that “Massachusetts enters only about 5 percent of its outstanding warrants into the [FBI’s National Crime Information Center] database.” Consequently, 95 percent of criminals wanted in Massachusetts appear law-abiding when New Hampshire cops stop them and compare their names against this database. Romney proposed a bill to require state and local cops to report such warrants to the FBI, but failed to get it through his state legislature.
“People tragically have been killed over this,” Stephen Monier, New Hampshire’s U.S. Marshall told the Union-Leader. “It’s a huge issue.”
Former Democratic state senator Jarrett Barrios told the Herald, “Had he [Romney] actually followed our recommendations on appropriate programs for re-entering prisoners, not just this prisoner, but prisoners across the commonwealth, would be less likely to reoffend.” Barrios also accused Romney of ignoring his own blue-ribbon panel on penal reform. Among other things, it advised post-release monitoring of inmates and job training as methods to reduce recidivism.
Romney’s chief Republican rival, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, took this occasion to examine Romney’s crime record more broadly.
‘‘The governor is going to have to explain his appointment, and the judge is going to have to explain her decision, but it’s not an isolated situation,’’ Giuliani told the Associated Press Saturday while on a campaign bus tour across New Hampshire. ‘‘Governor Romney did not have a good record in dealing with violent crime.’’
“He had an increase in murder and violent crime while he was governor,’’ Giuliani continued. ‘‘So it’s not so much the isolated situation which he and the judge will have to explain. He’s kind of thrown her under the bus, so it’s hard to know how this is all going to come out. But the reality is, he did not have a record of reducing violent crime.’’
While it’s tricky to compare a four-year governorship with an eight-year mayoralty, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Statistics illuminate Romney’s and Giuliani’s records on law and order. While murders grew 7.5 percent in Massachusetts during Romney’s 2002 – 2006 gubernatorial term, they plunged 66.7 percent across Giuliani’s two mayoral terms (1993 – 2001). Burglaries rose 5.8 percent under Romney and slid 68.2 percent under Giuliani. While robberies climbed 12.3 percent on Romney’s watch, Giuliani supervised a 67.2 percent reduction in robberies. As Romney saw a 32.5 percent reversal in motor-vehicle theft, such crimes cratered 73.3 percent under Giuliani. Overall, Romney’s crime index fell 8.2 percent, while Giuliani’s tumbled 56.1 percent.
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This ghastly episode’s most telling comment comes from the pen of the suspect behind this grisly double homicide, now isolated in Washington’s Pierce County Jail. As the Herald reported November 21, Daniel Tavares Jr. wrote his father to say he received a college education and learned seven languages behind bars. As this convicted killer added: “Only in Massachusetts.”
– Deroy Murdock is a New York-based columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University.