The risks attached to Lemire have to do with the fact that his conduct as a prosecutor will be part of an SJC hearing in December. I am referring to the Benjamin LaGuer case in which it turns out the commonwealth (who Lemire represented as the prosecutor) hid a report from the defense showing that a set of four fingerprints found on a key piece of evidence belonged to someone other than LaGuer. This is no trivial matter, and attorney James C. Rehnquist will be arguing the point in court soon.
The LaGuer case was demagogued to death on talk radio last week with Leominster Mayor Dean Mazzarella kicking things off on the Howie Carr show. That was unfortunate but par for the course when Conte sets his political machine in motion. Thank goodness Howie isn’t in charge of choosing judges.
People who have looked at this case with an open mind, rather than based on whipped up emotion, know the score.
This is not a liberal versus conservative issue. It’s a question of whether we are governed by the rule of law. It is about fundamental fairness. The risk that the Lemire nomination (should he be confirmed) will end up embarrassing Romney on the national presidential campaign trail may be small but it can’t be discounted. After all, a guy named McCain might pick up on it at some point. The Governor’s Council itself stands to be deeply embarrassed if it votes to confirm.
But why take the risk at all when doing the right thing would be so easy? Especially when you consider the consequences for the people of Worcester and indeed the whole commonwealth of a process that subverts competency in favor of politics. Handing out Superior Court judgeships based on finding soft landings for mediocre lawyers when one the DA’s office changes hands is corrosive and ultimately undermines the cause of justice.
Let’s be clear. Whatever you think of Benjamin LaGuer, he did not get a fair trial in 1984. James Lemire was the reason. That story is finally being told. To give Lemire a position of such profound responsibility just months before the Supreme Judicial Court is set to take up the case is nothing short of outrageous.
I’ll leave off with two quotes: One from a politician who is much vilified on BMG. But his words in this instance are to be commended. The other from a jurist with a different philosophical outlook, but whose point illustrates that justice should always be a bipartisan concern.
“Because one of the main sources of our national unity is our belief in equal justice, we need to make sure Americans of all races and backgrounds have confidence in the system that provides justice. In America, we must make doubly sure no person is held to account for a crime he or she did not commit.”
President George W. Bush
State of the Union, February 2, 2005
“When police or prosecutors conceal significant exculpatory or impeaching material, we hold, it is ordinarily incumbent on the state to set the record straight.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Writing for the US Supreme Court majority on a Texas case, February 24, 2004.
Almost inevitably when the LaGuer case is raised the retort is: “But the DNA says he did it.”
Let us please put at least the certainty of that statement to rest. A 2002 DNA test did reveal a trace amount of LaGuer’s genetic code in the evidence. It will be perfectly legitimate for the prosecution to introduce that at a new trial. A jury will then have the opportunity to weigh that piece of evidence with the seriousness it deserves. In the mean time four DNA experts have looked at the case very carefully and determined that there is a an extremely high risk that the evidence was contaminated. This is the most recent such opinion:
August 21, 2006
The Honorable Ellen Story
State House Room 167
Boston, MA 02133
RE: Ben LaGuer
Dear Representative Story:
I have examined the material you provided to me in the case of Ben LaGuer. I do not have anything much to add to the reports prepared by Dean A. Wideman and Theodore D. Kessis. Having examined these reports, I can join in agreement with their concerns that the DNA evidence in this case was very possibly tainted. The evidence in this case was collected at a time when standards for the handling of material for DNA typing was poor or nonexistent…. What is especially troubling in the Ben LaGuer case is that it is my understanding that the DNA was amplified by means of the polymerase chain reaction, a procedure in which no amount of cross contamination, however minuscule, can ever be considered negligible. If it is correct that articles taken from LaGuer and/or from his bedroom were mislabeled and mixed together with actual samples taken directly from the victim, then the DNA evidence is of no value, even if the samples were mixed by mistake.
I frankly do not understand why you and your colleagues have been refused information by the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab, the Clerk of Courts in Worcester, and the Worcester District Attorney. There is, in my opinion, ample reason for a full inquiry into this case, and I hope that the Supreme Judicial Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will agree.
Higgins Professor of Biology
If we accept that reason must always trump easy answers based on emotion, then we’ve got to pay attention to opinions such as these. If the process that convicted LaGuer wasn’t fair he must be granted a new trial. No matter what the DNA seems to say.