The state could have stopped him

Failures in Massachusetts freed inmate now accused in 2 slayings

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December 18, 2007

This story was reported by Shelley Murphy, Jonathan Saltzman, and Scott Allen of the Globe staff. It was written by Allen.

GRAHAM, Wash. - Ma and Pa's Roundup is the kind of hole in the wall where everyone turns to look at the rare newcomers who venture through its doors, which is exactly what happened the night that Daniel T. Tavares Jr. came striding in.

Tavares had a tattoo of a raging bull on his neck. He announced he had a stash of crystal meth in his pocket. He said he had ties to the Mafia and owned his own tattoo business. And he let it drop that, by the way, he had killed three people back in Boston.

"He didn't belong here," said manager Justin Greenwood, a burly, bearded man who twice ejected Tavares from the Roundup that November night - the second time screaming, profanity included, in his face to get out of the bar.

Greenwood had no idea that he had just gone chest-to-chest with a fugitive from Massachusetts with a history of horrific violence, a man who killed his mother with a carving knife, led police to another woman's corpse in his former backyard, and threatened Mitt Romney and his own father. Hours after leaving the Roundup, Tavares is believed to have killed again. He allegedly killed a couple who lived across the street from his trailer, shooting each one three times in the head.

In retrospect, Tavares's odyssey from a cell in the most restrictive section of MCI-Cedar Junction to unfettered liberty in the foothills of Washington's Mount Rainier should never have happened. But how it did, how a mentally ill, drug-abusing killer was unleashed on a rural community 3,000 miles away, exposes breakdowns throughout the criminal justice system in Massachusetts, a Globe investigation shows.

Massachusetts officials had repeated opportunities to keep Tavares behind bars as his sentence for killing his mother came to an end last summer, including the hearing July 16 in which Tavares, facing more criminal charges for assaulting prison guards, appeared in Superior Court asking that he be set free until trial. The hearing could have provided a chance to discuss his history of threats and violence, but it took Judge Kathe M. Tuttman less than 10 minutes to waive bail and release Tavares.

Though Tuttman has absorbed most of the criticism, an extensive review of Tavares's file shows that prosecutors rejected or ignored serious concerns about the inmate raised by police and prison officials over a 16-year period. As a result, his bail review was handled like countless others that take place every day in state courts, when it was anything but routine:

The Worcester County prosecutor who argued to keep Tavares in prison at that July 16 hearing had so little information about the inmate that he never mentioned Tavares's egregious prison record that included more than 100 serious disciplinary complaints, never said Tavares had killed his mother, and never challenged Tavares's claim that he was about to begin a new life as a welder in Dighton.

The main purpose of the hearing was to determine whether Tavares, 41, could be counted on to stay in Massachusetts until his trial. Tavares had been telling prison mental health counselors for two years that he planned to relocate to Washington state to be with a woman he met through an online dating service. Tavares listed the woman's hometown, Graham, as his address on an official document in 2005 and, on the day he stood before Tuttman, his neck bore a tattoo of her name, Jennifer Lynn.

Nonetheless, the judge said she believed he would not flee and turned him loose. Three days later, Tavares went to T. F. Green Airport in Rhode Island and boarded a plane for Seattle.

Once State Police learned that he had flown to Washington, they sought permission to arrest him. But the Worcester district attorney's office again failed to respond. Prosecutors waited six weeks to answer a July 28 request for an arrest warrant from State Police, and then issued a warrant that applied only if Tavares returned to New England.

A Washington state trooper, acting on a request from Massachusetts police, sat in front of Tavares's trailer in an unmarked cruiser in early October. Lacking a warrant to arrest Tavares, the trooper drove away, possibly missing the last best chance to apprehend him before the slayings.

Tavares's release might have been avoided altogether if Paul F. Walsh Jr., then Bristol County district attorney, had not offered Tavares a plea bargain for the brutal 1991 slaying of his mother. Somerset police had a videotaped confession and another man was stabbed during the attack. But Tavares was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter and serve 17 to 20 years, rather than face possible life in prison without parole for a murder conviction.

The lapses and leniencies are even more disconcerting considering a harsh reality of Massachusetts prisons: Inmates can be held in what is essentially solitary confinement for years, then released to the streets without so much as a social worker to see how they are adjusting. Tavares was kept alone in his cell for 23 hours a day from 1999 until just before his release, venturing outside only in leg shackles and handcuffs.

Tavares admitted to a Globe reporter in 2004 that he was a difficult prisoner, but blamed it on years of abuse. "How many times can you kick a dog before he bites back?" he asked.

Word never reached the people of Graham that a violent fugitive had taken up residence. Brian and Beverly Mauck, who planned to start a family in the house they had purchased in 2006, never mentioned their new neighbor to family members. Beverly's mother said she first heard the name Daniel Tavares when he was arrested in her daughter's murder.

"We know about the child molesters and the rapists, but what about the homicidal maniacs?" Karen Slater asked.

Ann Marie Tavares loved her wayward son. Friends and family told detectives investigating her murder that he should have been locked up long ago because of his volcanic temper. Tavares had done jail time for robbery, and he had gone to drug rehab to avoid more - only to be kicked out for stealing and abusing drugs.

But Ann Tavares, a laundromat manager, had raised Daniel and three older sisters alone after she and her husband split in 1968. She was protective of her troubled youngest, who suffered from bipolar disorder and anxiety attacks. As a friend told police, "He was Ann's baby," and she had invited him to live in her Somerset home.

Tavares claimed he was hearing voices when he stabbed her over and over again on the night of July 11, 1991, telling police that he "just started swinging" with a 12-inch knife after an evening of drinking and taking LSD. Police found 14 vials of psychiatric medications on the dresser in Tavares's bedroom.

Tavares's history of mental illness persuaded Walsh, the DA, to accept a guilty plea to manslaughter rather than pursue murder charges, prompting criticism recently from police involved in the investigation.

"To me, it was definitely homicide," said former Somerset police chief James M. Smith. "Certainly, when you stab someone 16 times, there's an intent there."

Walsh said later that he feared Tavares's psychological problems could suggest he did not understand what he was doing on the night of the killing. "We have to prove that he possessed a sound mind. . . . If we can't prove that, he's found not guilty," said Walsh in a recent interview, noting that Tavares got the strictest sentence possible for the lesser charge.

Others who know Tavares argue that mental illness does not explain his long pattern of violence and threats.

"Certain people in the world just have evil in them and I hate to say it but I think it was with him, pure evilness," said Daniel T. Tavares Sr., of Zephyr Hills, Fla.

Some suspect the truth may be worse than Tavares's rap sheet. In 2000, he contacted police to say that he could tell them where to find the body of 32-year-old Gayle Botelho, who he said had been killed by two acquaintances after "some wild party" in 1988. Investigators unearthed Botelho's skeletal remains in a makeshift grave behind the Fall River house Tavares had lived in at the time of her disappearance. Like Ann Tavares, Botelho had been stabbed to death.

Walsh said he believes Tavares did not kill her, but he did not prosecute the others because he did not want to rely on an admitted killer's testimony. "Your whole case is based on his words. That's a skinny case," he said.

Among prison guards, Tavares became known as a loud-mouthed malcontent who spat at guards passing his cell, tossed feces or urine at them, and made violent threats.

"He was what guys refer to as a cell warrior," said an officer who once worked at MCI-Cedar Junction and spoke on the condition of anonymity. "He was always making trouble from his cell."

Because of his behavior, prison officials repeatedly extended Tavares's prison term, taking away more than 1,000 days of "good time" that would have entitled him to earlier release. Tavares lived in Cedar Junction's Departmental Disciplinary Unit - a prison within a prison - for more than seven years, making him one of the isolation unit's longest-serving inmates

For years, he wrote threatening letters to public officials and family members from his cell, prompting a State Police investigation in 2006. "He threatened to kill me," said the elder Tavares. "He said he'd come down here when he got out and break all my ribs and maim me."

However, Tavares could not be charged with a crime, prosecutors said, because, as an inmate, he had no ability to carry out the threats. By the time Tavares came up for release, Worcester District Attorney John Conte had been replaced by Joseph D. Early Jr., who said he knew nothing of the threats.

By June 2005, Tavares had a new ally in Jennifer Lynn Freitas, who described herself as his fiancée and defended him in online chatrooms. From then on, Tavares told prison officials repeatedly about his desire to join Freitas.

Romance did not end the clashes with guards. Prison officials prefer to resolve misbehavior internally, but guards at Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley drew the line Dec. 1, 2005, when Tavares allegedly slammed a guard in the face with the cast on his left hand. Three months later, Tavares allegedly spit on another guard. For the incidents, he lost six months of "good time," but guards also asked the Worcester DA's office to file assault charges.

Prosecutors agreed, but the office did not file charges until a Walpole prison official, going through paperwork for Tavares's scheduled release on June 14, 2007, contacted Souza-Baranowski about the unresolved assaults. Prison officials filed the complaint, but the delay gave Tavares's lawyer ammunition to argue that prison officials were unfairly trying to extend Tavares's sentence again.

By July 16, the only thing that separated Tavares from freedom was raising the $100,000 bail he faced in the assault charges. His problem would be solved in a brief hearing barely noticed outside of Judge Tuttman's courtroom in Worcester. A transcript shows that Tavares's lawyer did 80 percent of the talking, while Assistant District Attorney William E. Loughlin made general remarks about Tavares's history of violence and suggested that he might leave the state. Tuttman quickly concluded that Tavares had done his time and released him.

Early defends his office's handling of Tavares's hearing, saying that a district court judge had previously agreed to hold Tavares on $100,000 bail pending his trial.

"We did our job," said Early. "We told the court he'd take off, and unfortunately he did."

Tavares walked out of Worcester Superior Court carrying about 40 pounds more than when he entered prison in 1991 and nearly as many new tattoos. But he was not rehabilitated: Tavares checked in with the probation department, as Tuttman required, just once. Then he fled.

On July 30, Tavares married Freitas at Defiance Point, a park outside Tacoma, and the couple moved into a camper-trailer on land owned by her brother and strewn with trailers and trucks. Less than 200 yards across a field was the neat house and two-car garage owned by the Maucks, an athletic couple who liked to ride their motorcycles and scuba dive.

Despite the freedom, Tavares's father said, his son was unchanged, calling the elder Tavares in November to blurt "I'm out" and hang up. On Nov. 16, the night before the slayings, Tavares Sr. said he got a call from a woman who did not identify herself. She said, "I'm just calling to let you know that Daniel is out, and he's on his way to come down there to get you."

That night, Daniel Tavares Sr. slept with his gun.

That same evening in Graham, Tavares was leaving a lasting impression at Ma and Pa's Roundup. "He was a real arrogant, vulgar guy," said Greenwood, who threw him out around 11 p.m. "He was drugged big time. His eyes were about to jump out of his head."

Sometime in the next few hours, Pierce County prosecutor Gerald T. Costello alleges, Tavares kicked in the front door of the Maucks' home, shot Brian Mauck in the face, then shot him twice more as he lay on the floor. Beverly Mauck tried to run, but she only made it to the front door before she was shot in the head, too. Tavares told police he then placed her body on top of Brian's and covered them with a blanket as a sign of respect.

Initially, Pierce County officials had no suspects, but then they got help from an unlikely source: Tavares and his new wife came to the sheriff's office in Tacoma on Nov. 18 to act as witnesses. "He was going to help us catch the bad guys," said Detective Ed Troyer.

Under questioning, Tavares's story that he had been awakened by shots unraveled. Soon, he admitted he had killed the couple - he and Jennifer Lynn had then gone to the park where they had been married to throw the murder weapon into Puget Sound. However, he gave shifting reasons for the attack, ranging from a disrespectful remark from Brian Mauck to a $50 tattoo debt he said Mauck owed him.

For Slater, the only consolation in the death of her daughter is the black eye Tavares apparently received during the attack: "I'm 99 percent sure Beverly gave him the black eye."

Troyer said Massachusetts officials have to do better than blaming one another for Tavares. "Everybody needs to take a little bit of responsibility," said Troyer. "If somebody were to say, 'Boy, we could have done a better job,' we'd have a lot more respect."

Daniel T. Tavares Jr gave authorities shifting reasons for attacking Brian and Beverly Mauck.

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