Globe Editorial

Man who shot Woburn officer shouldn't have been paroled

December 31, 2010

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SLAIN WOBURN police Officer John Maguire will be laid to rest today. But questions surrounding the parole of his alleged killer, Dominic Cinelli, remain. Cinelli, who died in a Dec. 26 exchange of gunfire with police following a hold-up, was a career armed robber and a chronic disciplinary problem while in prison. By any intelligent measure, he should have been low on the list of offenders fit to return to society.

Risk assessment of prisoners seeking parole will always be somewhat subjective and prone to error. It’s a hard job, and it’s easy to imagine parole board members missing some small danger signal in an offender deemed at low-risk. But the 57-year-old Cinelli didn’t fit that bill. He was serving three concurrent life sentences for a string of violent robberies, including the shooting of a security guard. The latter offense was part of a crime spree that began when Cinelli failed to return from a one-day furlough in 1985. But it was Cinelli’s behavior in prison — a key predictor of recidivism — that should have convinced the Parole Board to keep him behind bars. He had stacked up more than 50 disciplinary reports and two escapes while continuing his drug use in prison.

There’s no doubt that the Parole Board made a terrible error. The focus now should be on reducing the chance that it will happen again. That will require an honest examination of the Parole Board’s own flaws. For starters, it’s disgraceful that its staffers failed to notify the Middlesex County district attorney’s office that Cinelli would appear before the board in 2008. DA testimony had helped to derail Cinelli’s earlier parole bid in 2005. And even though the DA’s objection to a second bid would have been a foregone conclusion, there was no powerful voice present to counter Cinelli’s advocates.

The board’s written decision to grant parole is littered with the courses Cinelli attended in prison — 12 Steps, AIDS Awareness, GED, Microsoft 1997, Power Technology, etc. But there is no indication in the document that the board wrestled in a meaningful way with specific aspects of his criminal background or information about his mental status.

Governor Patrick’s administration is looking into the decision, and will have to determine whether the board followed proper procedures. But the failure to alert the district attorney’s office of the parole hearing was, in itself, a tragic lapse.