Mitt Romney's Willie Horton Moment: Throws Judge Under Bus

Republican candidate and former Mass. Governor Mitt Romney is under attack because a former prosecutor he appointed to the bench set bail for an inmate who had just finished serving a manslaughter sentence. Prosecutors, in an effort to keep the inmate in jail after finishing his sentence, charged him with crimes arising from two incidents occurring more than a year earlier. One incident involved him spitting on a guard and in the other, he hit a guard with a cast that was on his arm.

The inmate, Daniel Tavares, Jr., moved to Washington State after his release where he resided with his wife whom he met through a prison pen pal program. The wife brought a gun into the home, even though as a felon, Tavares isn't allowed to possess a gun. Tavares is now charged with and has confessed to shooting and killing a newleywed couple in WA over a $50 debt.

A "Willie Horton" campaign moment (1988 ad here)is brewing against Romney. In response, he has called for the Judge to resign and pushes the death penalty button.


"It is because of monsters like Daniel Tavares that we need the death penalty."

The judge, Kathe Tuttman, granted Tavares' release on a personal recognizance bond, after he appealed another judge's ruling setting his bond at $50,000. She hasn't responded to requests for an explanation as to why she made that decision, however, legally, it may have been the correct one. The purpose of bail is to secure a defendant's appearance at trial on pending charges.

“It is the Court’s view that Mr. Tavares has wrapped his sentence on the underlying offense,” Tuttman said from the bench. “He doesn’t have a history of any defaults on the record. And there is no indication . . . that he is a risk of flight, other than the nature and circumstances of the charges.”

Romney may share some blame in the matter, but it's not for the Judge's appointment. Due to the way judges are appointed in Mass., Romney didn't even know the judge's name when he appointed her. They are appointed anonymously, based on their record.

Tuttman, 55, is a former Essex prosecutor who headed the family crimes and sexual assault unit before her appointment to the bench in 2006.

Tuttman's appointment came to Romney from the Massachusetts executive judicial appointment board and arrived at Romney's desk without Tuttman's name attached. Romney approved Tuttman's nomination to the commonwealth's Governor's Council, an eight-member body elected to screen and confirm a variety of gubernatorial appointees, including judicial appointees. The council approved Tuttman's nomination.

First, Romney's wrong to use the case to make a renewed call for the death penalty. Had Tavares received life without parole for the killing of his mother, he wouldn't have been out to commit another crime. The death penalty argument is a false one. Not to mention, Tavares was convicted of manslaughter not murder. Calling for the death penalty for manslaughter is absurd.

Romney also shares responsibility for Tavares' release .

A former Bay State lawmaker yesterday slammed Romney for failing to enact recommendations from his own blue-ribbon panel on correction reform that might have prevented the tragedy, including monitoring inmates more closely after their release from prison and instituting job-training programs.

“Had he 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,” said former state Sen. Jarrett Barrios, who along with former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger resigned from the correction commission in protest in December 2005.

Prosecutors too share responsibility for Tavares' release:

Last night, Ed Ryan, head of a Bay State bar association task force on fair and impartial courts, came to Tuttman’s defense, saying prosecutors should have asked the judge for a so-called “dangerousness hearing” that might have kept Daniel Tavares Jr., charged in the killing last weekend of Washington newlyweds, behind bars.

It also sounds like either the probation department or law enforcement dropped the ball:

Tuttman ordered that Tavares be put under the supervision of the Department of Probation, which required him to check in with a probation officer three times a week, maintain employment as a welder and live with a sister in Dighton. Tavares failed to show up in court on July 23.

He was released on bail on July 16. One week later he fails to appear. Did probation do its thrice-weekly check? An arrest warrant likely would have issued when he failed to appear on July 23. Why didn't law enforcement make more of an effort to find and apprehend him?

Michael Dukakis, the Democratic candidate whose campaign was derailed by the Willie Horton swift-boating campaign, says people should oppose Romney not because of the Tavares case or his appointment of Tuttman, but because of his record as Governor of Mass:

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Dukakis said, nixing any talk of sliming Mitt as he was slimed all those years ago. “Aside from the fact that it’s just plain reprehensible, it’s always a distortion of the truth. When it happened to me, the Republicans failed to mention that 45 out of 50 states had (prison) furlough programs, including, I might add, Texas, which had some cases that would’ve made Willie Horton look quite tame.

“Besides,” Dukakis sighed, “all of this is merely a distraction from the far more serious issue when it comes to Romney. And that is, this guy is simply a fraud. It is inconceivable to me that the Republicans could actually nominate this guy.

....“There’s just so much more to go after with this guy than to attack for the decision a judge made. For starters, how about questioning the man’s fundamental integrity? What does he actually believe in? Does anyone really know, because I certainly don’t.”

Dukakis is right. Rather than crying "Willie Horton" and slinging mud at Mitt Romney over the judicial appointment of a fully vetted prosecutor, let's focus on Romney's record, whatever it is, as a whole.

The Tavares case is a smokescreen. Romney is throwing the judge under the bus for political gain.

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  • Display: Sort:
    No (5.00 / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 08:51:20 PM EST
    read the whole post. He shouldn't be criticized for appointing the Judge. But he is to be criticized for throwing her under the bus, for failing to own up to his disregard of his commissions recommendations on providing programs and support for those about to be released and for using the incident as a call for the death penalty.

    Is ths all there is??? (1.00 / 0) (#1)
    by jimakaPPJ on Sat Nov 24, 2007 at 06:06:01 PM EST
    Romney appointed a prosecutor who screwed up???

    Tavares (none / 0) (#3)
    by diogenes on Sun Nov 25, 2007 at 11:20:53 PM EST
    Tavares killed his mother with a carving knife.  That should have won him a conviction of murder.  If he had gotten the death penalty then, these two newlyweds would have been alive today, because even people convicted of murder seem to get paroled from prison.