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Story Behind The Coakley ‘Curling Iron’

The real scandal of the Coakley ‘curling iron’ from the a couple of weeks ago in the Boston Globe:

Some saw Coakley as lax on ’05 rape case

AG defends steps in long process

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff  |  January 6, 2010

In October 2005, a Somerville police officer living in Melrose raped his 23-month-old niece with a hot object, most likely a curling iron.

Keith Winfield, then 31, told police he was alone with the toddler that day and made additional statements that would ultimately be used to convict him.

But in the aftermath of the crime, a Middlesex County grand jury overseen by Martha Coakley, then the district attorney, investigated without taking action.

It was only after the toddler’s mother filed applications for criminal complaints that Coakley won grand jury indictments charging rape and assault and battery.

Even then, nearly 10 months after the crime, Coakley’s office recommended that Winfield be released on personal recognizance, with no cash bail. He remained free until December 2007, when Coakley’s successor as district attorney won a conviction and two life terms.

Coakley, now the Democratic candidate for US Senate, has made much of her record prosecuting crimes against children, and says her office handled this investigation appropriately. But the case stands out as one in which she drew criticism for not being aggressive enough. Indeed, the case gave rise to Coakley’s last competitive election.

Larry Frisoli, a Cambridge attorney who had represented the family of Jeffrey Curley, a 10-year-old Cambridge boy murdered by sexual predators in an infamous 1997 case, was so angered by Coakley’s handling of the Winfield investigation that he ran against her as a Republican for attorney general in 2006, ultimately unsuccessfully. ..

In a recent interview, Coakley said her office acted appropriately at every turn, adding that her office fielded 900 complaints of sexual and physical child abuse each year. She asserted that it was not unusual for prosecutors to require more than one grand jury before obtaining indictments, especially in cases such as Winfield’s, in which there is only circumstantial evidence and the victim is deemed too young to testify.

“I think the jury’s conviction is sound and will be upheld on appeal,’’ Coakley said.

Coakley pointed out that Winfield had no prior convictions, had deep roots in his community, and had appeared voluntarily at his arraignment after a 10-month investigation, leaving her office with scant reason to ask for cash bail and little reason to believe that a judge would order it.

She insisted that Winfield’s status as a law enforcement officer had no bearing on her decisions. “The fact that he was a Somerville police officer was irrelevant,’’ she said.

Coakley’s prosecutors made the recommendation that Winfield be released with no cash bail, even though an investigator with the Department of Children and Families, working in the weeks immediately following the rape, found that Winfield had been suspended from his job with the Somerville police for disciplinary reasons and had lied about it.

In addition, the investigator found that Winfield had concealed the fact that he had been evaluated at Melrose-Wakefield Hospital for stress less than two weeks before the rape.

Indeed, before Winfield’s trial, prosecutors sought to admit evidence that Winfield, in the days leading up to the rape, was treated for a substance abuse problem and had threatened to kill himself by holding a gun to his head, “evincing great emotional stress and the strong possibility that [he] would harm himself or others.’’

Although high cash bail is intended primarily as a means to ensure that the accused appear for court dates, judicial guidelines say it can be imposed in cases because of “the nature and circumstances of the offense’’ or the potential sentence a defendant faces. Each of the rape charges on which Winfield was indicted carried a potential life sentence.

John Swomley, a defense lawyer who has represented clients prosecuted by Coakley, said he found her decision to recommend that Winfield be released on personal recognizance unusual.

“Given the evidence it appears they had, I can’t imagine them not asking for cash bail,’’ he said.

Family members of the toddler remain troubled by Coakley’s recommendation that Winfield be allowed to remain free.

“Why was he able to be two years out of jail? Why is that?’’ said one family member. “We ask that question all the time.’’

This is quite a scandal.

Certainly far more than any crude remark from an (alleged) Scott Brown supporter.

This article was posted by Steve on Tuesday, January 19th, 2010. Comments are currently closed.

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