Killings a year apart show parole’s risks

Alleged slayers of clerk, officer had made case for release

By Jonathan Saltzman
Globe Staff / December 31, 2010

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Both slayings occurred the day after Christmas, a year apart. The first took the life of a recent immigrant from Nepal, the second the life of a veteran police officer.

Both alleged killers were recent parolees and one-time drug abusers serving sentences of 15 years to life for violent crime. Both had histories of escaping from custody. Both persuaded the Parole Board they had changed.

And both cases have drawn intense scrutiny about how the Parole Board operates and have prompted internal reviews.

On Dec. 26, 2009, a convicted murderer named Edward Corliss fatally shot Surendra Dangol, a 39-year-old Nepalese store clerk who had started working at a Tedeschi Food Shop in Jamaica Plain just days before, according to authorities. Corliss, a 63-year-old parolee, was charged with murder the following month and awaits trial.

On Sunday, Dominic Cinelli, a 57-year-old parolee with a history of armed robberies, shot Woburn police Officer John Maguire, 60, who was responding to a jewelry heist at Kohl’s department store in the midst of the blizzard, authorities said. Cinelli, who police said took part in the holdup, was killed in a shootout with the officer.

The strikingly similar cases highlight the risks of releasing convicted criminals with violent pasts.

“You try to be as objective as possible, but mistakes are made,’’ said Daniel M. Dewey, a member of the board that voted to free Corliss in 2006 and who left the panel the following year. “If you want 100 percent perfection, you wouldn’t parole anybody.’’

Dewey, a former state probation officer, said board members often suspect that prisoners — in particular, convicted prostitutes and inmates with histories of substance abuse — are at high risk for committing new crimes if paroled. But board members will sometimes give them a chance, he said, because they pose minimal threat to the public.

The board is typically far more cautious with prisoners convicted of violent crime. Still, in his experience, he said, lifers such as Corliss and Cinelli, people committed of second-degree murder or other violent crimes, have among the lowest recidivism rates.

Such inmates, Dewey explained, have spent many years in prison and know that if they commit new crimes, “boom, they’re back in jail and back serving life sentences.’’

“Most lifers work very, very hard to stay on parole because they know it could be years before they’re let out again,’’ said the 67-year-old Quincy resident, who was first appointed by Governor William F. Weld. “Quite a few murderers get out and stay out.’’

Criminologists and people familiar with the state’s parole system say it is even rarer for paroled lifers to commit murder.

Donald V. Giancioppo, until recently the executive director of the state Parole Board, told the Globe in February that the Dangol slaying marked the first time in his 13 years at the agency that a paroled murderer was charged with another killing.

“I think it’s important to recognize that we’re in a risk-management business,’’ he said. “Ninety-five percent of all inmates are ultimately going to be released to the community.’’

The board tries to be careful, he added, “but ultimately there’s no guarantees with human behavior.’’

Such caveats are of little comfort to police officers and crime victims.

Jim O’Leary — whose father, Boston police Officer James B. O’Leary, was gunned down in 1963 while responding to the robbery of a Back Bay liquor store — said he was appalled that the board voted, 6-0, in 2008 to release Cinelli, who was serving three concurrent sentences of 15 years to life in prison.

Cinelli, O’Leary said, was a career criminal who had failed to return to prison after a one-day furlough in 1985 and had shot a security guard during a heist at a jewelry store while on the lam.

“Isn’t that a huge red flag?’’ said O’Leary, who was 6 when his father was killed. “This guy masked his criminal tendencies to get by the board. How do you get six supposedly well-informed, knowledgeable Parole Board members not to have any disagreement?’’

John Grossman, the state’s undersecretary of public safety and security, said Tuesday that the Patrick administration had directed the Parole Board to review how it made its decision. Preliminary results, he said, would be ready in about a week to 10 days.

Already, Grossman confirmed, state officials have learned of one lapse: The agency failed to notify Middlesex County prosecutors of Cinelli’s parole hearing beforehand, as required by state law for cases involving lifers. The Middlesex district attorney’s office said it would have opposed Cinelli’s parole request, as it had in 2005.

Parole Board members have declined to return calls for comment this week. Governor Deval Patrick, who plans to attend Maguire’s funeral today, declined to be interviewed yesterday.

His spokesman, Kyle Sullivan, said in a statement: “This was a tragic event, and the governor’s thoughts and prayers go out to Officer Maguire’s family and colleagues. We are awaiting the completion of the review of the Parole Board’s decision before making any comments relative to next steps.’’

The agency conducted a review this year after Corliss was arrested. The report, a copy of which was obtained by the Globe, concluded that the board had all the relevant background material on Corliss before it voted, 5-1, to parole him.

The review did not look at whether the board was right to parole Corliss, but did recommend that the agency speed up plans to use a new tool for risk assessment to evaluate parole requests from the most serious offenders.

Although the board grants parole requests to about 6,000 inmates in county jails and state prisons every year, few people hear about the decisions unless something goes wrong.

By law, the board consists of seven members appointed by the governor, with approval of the Governor’s Council. Each member must meet certain statutory qualifications, including at least five years of experience in one or more of the following fields: parole, probation, corrections, law enforcement, law, psychology, sociology, and social work.

At the time of the vote on Cinelli, the board had one vacancy. The members consisted of the following: Mark A. Conrad, the chairman and a former Milton police officer; Doris Dottridge, a former Mashpee police officer; Candace Kochin, a former Hampshire County Sheriff’s Department administrator; Thomas F. Merigan Jr., a former federal probation supervisor; Pamela Lombardini, a former federal probation officer; and Leticia Munoz, a clinical psychologist.

Conrad, Lombardini, and Munoz were appointed by Patrick. Kochin and Merigan were appointed by Governor Mitt Romney. Dottridge was appointed by Governor Paul Cellucci.

The board paroled about two-thirds of the inmates who appeared before it each year since 2005, according to agency statistics. The percentage of so-called lifers who requested and received parole was 40 percent in 2009; 27 percent in 2008; 27 percent in 2007; and 31 percent in 2006.