, Newburyport, MA

March 18, 2013

Catch-and-release felons place public in danger

Newburyport Daily News

---- — More stories in recent days suggest that a lack of confidence in the ability of our justice system to protect the public is justified.

Last May, Anthony Fowler, 22, entered a Haverhill apartment and crawled into bed with Susan Lavoie, 53. When Lavoie woke to the feeling of hands groping and touching her, she was stunned by fear. Then she began to fight.

“I sat up and started screaming, ‘What are you doing,’ and ‘get out of here,’” she told a reporter. “And he’s laughing at me.”

Lavoie, who has terminal bone cancer, grabbed the metal cane she uses to help her walk and began whacking Fowler with it. Fowler would not get out of the bed and continued to laugh at her. Finally, he left when she threatened to call the police.

Fowler was arrested and charged with indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 and released on $1,000 cash bail.

While awaiting trial on that charge, Fowler entered another person’s home. On Jan. 31, he entered a Haverhill home in the early morning hours, frightening the elderly woman who lived there. She told police she was in her bedroom when she heard a noise and went to investigate. She found Fowler trying to hide behind a refrigerator, saying he needed a place to stay for the night, police said.

Fowler was charged with unarmed burglary and ordered held without bail.

On Feb. 26, Fowler pleaded guilty in court on the indecent assault charge involving Lavoie. The assistant district attorney had sought 18 months incarceration but Judge Stephen Abany agreed with the defense request for two years probation. Fowler was ordered to pay a $50 per month probation fee, remain drug and alcohol free and was relieved of having to register as a sex offender.

The next day, Fowler appeared in court on the unarmed burglary charge, which was amended to breaking and entering in the nighttime. He pleaded guilty and Judge Patricia Dowling sentenced him to four months in the House of Correction, with credit for 28 days served.

Lavoie is rightly outraged.

“Four months doesn’t erase the trauma,” Lavoie said. “I felt violated and I have no faith in the justice system anymore.

“Every day you see on TV how people like this are let off all the time,” Lavoie said. “But you don’t hear about how they hurt their victims. Why do they keep letting these people out? If they do it once, they’ll do it again.”

It is easy to understand why victims such as Lavoie see this as a light sentence. A criminal who would be so bold as to enter a person’s home at night is committing an act that not only traumatizes the victim, it also destroys the precious sense of safety and security that “home” represents. This is the kind of behavior that should not be tolerated, as it seems likely to be a stepping stone to far worse acts.

We agree with the victims in these cases — they deserved better from the criminal justice system.