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Martha Coakley: Terrible Prosecutor

It’s worth recalling, as the Massachusetts Senate election approaches, that Martha Coakley is not just some bland Democratic machine apparatchik. She’s a bland Democratic machine apparatchik with a long record as a prosecutor that includes some very ugly things.

Exhibit A is the notorious case, familiar to readers of the Wall Street Journal over the past three decades, of Gerald Amirault. The case, discussed in summary here, was a terrible miscarriage of justice involving fantastical accounts of sex abuse of children, exposed by Journal reporter Dorothy Rabinowitz; it was originally prosecuted by another politically ambitious Democrat, Scott Harshbarger. And then:

When Martha Coakley became district attorney of Middlesex County in 1999, the Amiraults were still in the news. But by this time hardly anyone believed they were guilty of the horrendous crimes they were alleged to have committed. In fact there was no evidence that anyone had abused any children in the Fells Acres Day Care.

But what did Martha Coakley do when the Parole Board voted unanimously (5-0) to pardon Gerald Amirault? She did everything in her power to see that he stayed in prison, including sending an assistant DA to oppose his release at the hearing. Coakley also went on talk shows to spout her views about his guilt. (Read about Martha Coakley’s involvement in Cheryl Amirault’s Plea Bargain also).

That alone should disqualify Coakley as a candidate for higher office. But there’s more.

Such overzealousness is why criminal-defense-minded writers like Radley Balko and Jeralyn Merritt – neither of them exactly a right-wing Republican – are opposed to Coakley. Both cite other examples as well (Balko notes that Coakley first came to prominence in the notorious “shaken-baby” case against British nanny Louise Woodward, in which Woodward’s murder conviction was reduced to manslaughter by the judge).

But overzealousness in questionable (or worse) cases isn’t Coakley’s problem. There’s also the opposite, her lenient treatment of a Somerville cop who raped his 23-month-old niece – yes, a toddler – with a hot curling iron. Coakley’s office let him out without bail pending trial; only under her successor was he convicted and sentenced to two life terms in jail.

It starts to be apparent that the persistent incompetence and tone-deafness of Coakley’s campaign may not be a new thing for her.

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