Archive for November, 2005

Injustice

It has been reported in the Boston Globe that Boston television stations WBZ and WSBK recently purchased a half-hour show called “Judge Maria Lopez”.  The show will feature former Massachusetts Superior Court judge Maria Lopez, who reportedly signed what has been described as a six-figure deal. 

Lopez was in the news a while back after giving just house arrest and probation to Charles Horton, who had been caught attempting to sexually assault an 11-year old boy while holding a sharpened screwdriver to the boy’s neck.  Horton pleaded guilty to kidnapping, indecent assault, attempted rape of a child, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. 

The case became national news when a video clip of Lopez berating the prosecutor in the case and describing the event as a “very low crime” was released.  Lopez later resigned rather than serve a six-month suspension, after it was ruled that she had lied under oath and abused her office. 

The ruling on the sexual assault case wasn’t the first time that Lopez had been overly lenient in her sentencing.  One case in particular was of interest to me: 

It was 1:45am on September 24, 1999, and my friend Jim Neville, then a senior at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, and a group of other students were walking home from a bar near the University of Massachusetts in Lowell.  Neville was giving a girl, Mindy Lundin, a piggy-back ride.  A car drove past.  As it did, someone in the car shouted something inappropriate about Mindy, so Jim replied, “Watch it!” 

The car screeched to a halt, and Anthony Ducharme, a man in his early twenties whom none of the students had ever seen before, stepped out.  He approached Neville and said, “One more word and you’re getting a bottle or a bullet.” 

Before Jim could even reply, Ducharme swung an empty Corona bottle that he had been hiding behind his leg.  The bottle smashed into the left side of Neville’s head, shattering on impact.  Ducharme’s arm followed through, and the broken bottle slashed open Neville’s throat, creating a deep cut one-tenth of a centimeter away from what would have been a fatal blow to the carotid artery. 

Neville’s neck began to bleed profusely as he staggered back.  The other students, originally stunned, began to move toward Ducharme, who then pushed Mindy to the ground and jumped back into the car, which sped away.  The students got the license plate number. 

Neville was rushed to the hospital.  Surgeons needed over 100 stitches to close the wound, resulting in a garish permanent scar. 

Ducharme, who was picked out of a lineup by Neville and other witnesses, was arrested and charged with mayhem, assault with intent to murder, assault and battery, and threats.  As the prosecutor told Neville, Ducharme was “very familiar” to the police in Lowell. 

According to the Boston Globe, in 1995 Ducharme had been convicted of assault with a dangerous weapon and threatening and was given two one-year suspended sentences.  In 1997, he was convicted of assault and battery and malicious destruction of property, for which he served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  He was released just four days before the attack on Neville. 

Ducharme appeared in front of Judge Maria Lopez and pleaded guilty.  The state recommended sentencing guideline is 4 to 6 ½ years in prison for Ducharme’s crime, but Judge Lopez wouldn’t be constrained by any guidelines.  She sentenced Ducharme to one year of jail time, to be followed by probation. 

Neville was confused by the sentencing, so he asked one of the people in the prosecutors’ office about it.  “She’s doing this to everyone,” he was told, “all the defendants want to get into her courtroom.” 

Now that she has resigned and criminals can’t count on getting a break, perhaps the streets of Massachusetts are safer.  Jim wasn’t happy about her resignation, though, “I wanted her to get kicked off the bench, to tell the truth.  I wanted her to go down in flames for all of the pain she caused for innocent people.  The fact that her career is now being celebrated by giving her a television show is just ridiculous.” 

Unfortunately, the people at WBZ and WSBK and other stations around the country aren’t concerned with how Jim Neville and the other victims feel.  The television executives must believe that the controversy surrounding “Judge Maria Lopez” will be a good thing, translating into great ratings and financial success.  One must wonder if they would feel differently had their family members or friends been in Lopez’s courtroom seeking justice.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 25 Nov 2005 No Comments

Remembering a Hero

David Connolly

On this Veteran’s Day weekend, I would like to take a moment to remember a true hero: US Army Major David S. Connolly, who was killed, along with 17 others, in a helicopter crash in Ghazni, Afghanistan on April 6, 2005. 

David Connolly was tall, lean, and by any standard, handsome.  His face, young for his 37 years, featured a strong jaw, engaging eyes and close-cropped dark hair.  His usual expression was an infectious smile that could be, in the words of his sister Nancy, “A little devious, as if he just might be up to something.” 

He was born the fifth of Gerald and Marguerite Connolly’s seven children.  Gerald and Marguerite raised their tightly-knit family in Newton, Massachusetts, which was then a suburban middle class neighborhood.  As with any family of seven children, things could get a little hectic in the Connolly household. 

“We were always up to something,” Greg, the youngest, remembers with a smile, “and David wouldn’t be doing more than anyone else, but he’d always be the one who got caught.” 

As a teenager, David had some difficulties focusing on the academic portion of high school.  Many people in that situation decide that high school is not for them and walk away from education forever, but David refused to give up on himself.  He began to embody what eventually would become his motto:  “You can do more.” 

He received his GED and joined the Coast Guard.  He was then accepted to Boston College and joined the ROTC program.  He graduated from BC, cum laude, in 1994 and was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army Reserve.  His oldest brother Joseph, also an officer, administered David’s commissioning oath. 

David was then accepted to Suffolk University Law School and graduated with his law degree.  He was promoted to Captain in the Army and became an Assistant District Attorney in Suffolk County. 

Assistant District Attorney can be a thankless job, involving long hours and low pay, but David wanted to do the right thing.  Greg remembers, “He wanted to help the little guy, to keep people safe by taking criminals off the streets.” 

Along the way, David met a beautiful woman named Debra.  They fell deeply in love and planned to be married; their future seemed limitless.  It was around this time, however, that David’s mother, Marguerite, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. 

David and Debra moved up their wedding date by six months and by all accounts, their 2003 wedding was truly a celebration of their love and of their families.  In an incredibly touching moment at the reception, with everyone gathered together, David had a last dance with his mother. 

It wasn’t unexpected, but still very sad, when Marguerite passed away just three weeks after the wedding.  The family was rocked further when, just a month after his mother’s passing, David’s father, Gerald, died of a heart attack. 

The family remained close.  “Family was so important to David.  He always made an effort to get everyone together,” his brother Greg explains, “He would call me up all the time to go to concerts, or to go fishing, or just to hang out.  If I told him that I was busy that day, he would say something like, ‘Come on; are you too busy to hang out with your brother?’” 

His sister Nancy remembers, “Dave always made time for anybody and everybody.  Lots of people are too busy, but Dave found time to spend with the people who were important to him.” 

David’s Army unit was activated and tasked for Iraq, but it never actually deployed there, instead remaining in Florida.  David was disappointed.  He felt that he could be helping his country, and he was frustrated that he wasn’t allowed to help. 

That is probably why, when his unit was later activated again and tasked for Afghanistan, he didn’t pull any strings to avoid the assignment.  He truly believed that it was his duty to answer when his country called, and he was always ready to discuss his political views with anyone who dared to disagree. 

While in Afghanistan, Captain Connolly made a difference by installing much-needed armor onto Humvee vehicles; again protecting the people who needed his help.  In one case, the armor he installed protected a vehicle that had been hit by 16 bullets, with only minor injuries suffered by the soldiers inside. 

On April 6th, David was one of 15 military personnel and 3 civilians on a twin rotor CH-47 Chinook helicopter that suddenly found itself caught in a severe sandstorm.  The Chinook lost contact with the lead helicopter and somehow ended up at an angle beyond the Chinook’s capabilities.  Connolly’s helicopter began to break up in flight, and crashed in Ghazni, about 80 miles south of Kabul.  There were no survivors. 

For his actions, Connolly was posthumously promoted to the rank of Major, and was awarded the Bronze Star by the President of the United States. 

“If I am comforted by anything,” his sister Nancy says, “it is that he died doing something that he truly believed in.  He wasn’t a person who waited around to do things, he did them.  He lived.” 

Please remember all of the men and women in the armed services and their families in your prayers on this Veteran’s Day.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 11 Nov 2005 No Comments

Graft and Corruption…benefitting Me

A while back, I wrote a column about my favorite book of all time, Ball Four by Jim Bouton.  I sent a copy of the column to Bouton and promptly forgot about the whole thing.  A few months passed.  I was then contacted by Bouton’s publisher, asking for my address so that they could send me a free copy of Bouton’s latest book, Foul Ball

I was elated.  The free book would be the first piece of graft, err…payment that I have received for writing this column, so I hurried my address to the publisher.  Foul Ball arrived in the mail a couple of weeks later, and the following is my review of the book. 

Foul Ball – My Life and Hard Times Trying to Save an Old Ballpark Plus Part II chronicles the efforts of Jim Bouton and his business partner, Chip Elitzer, to gain a lease for Wahconah Park from the powers that be in the City of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. 

Bouton and Elitzer’s goal was to renovate Wahconah Park, a venerable baseball park in the City of Pittsfield, and then buy a minor league baseball team to play there; all with private money.  Their effort came after repeated attempts by the city fathers to build a new baseball park were rejected by the voters of Pittsfield. 

As the title of the book suggests, Bouton and Elitzer’s efforts produced quite a bit of turmoil in Pittsfield. Their plan, which seemed to make the most financial sense for the city while at the same time reinvigorating a beloved city landmark, seemed to be quite popular with the citizens of Pittsfield.  It was not quite as popular with other powerful entities in town. 

Bouton describes a town where the mayor, parks commission, and newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, all take positions against the Bouton-Elitzer plan for reasons that Bouton has some very strong suspicions about, but which are never clearly explained to the voters.  The Eagle newspaper editorials, many of which are reprinted in the book and all of which strongly oppose Bouton, really need to be read to be believed. 

Mr. Bouton has some interesting theories about why a new baseball park was being shoved down the throats of the voters, and some of those theories had to do with big business, money, and polluted land.  Bouton’s theories make quite a bit of sense. 

In the end, the voters were never given a voice on the issue, and, in the words of one city official, “The fix was in.”  Pittsfield’s politicians followed the long standing tradition of following their own agendas without considering the will of the electorate, and shut down Bouton and Elitzer’s plan in favor of a competitor who planned to use Wahconah Park only until he could get a new stadium built. 

But that’s not all. 

The competitor failed, and soon abandoned Pittsfield.  A new mayor was elected.  The new mayor and other city officials then wrote a letter asking Bouton and Elitzer to come back and try again, this time without the political problems of the previous effort.  After considerable consideration, Bouton and Elitzer agreed to come back, and began work on renovating Wahconah Park. 

In a short time, they were able to get a nationally televised (ESPN) vintage baseball game at Wahconah Park.  The game generated publicity and a tremendous amount of goodwill for the city and for the park.  Everything was going well, and the future of Wahconah Park looked strong, but Bouton and Elitzer’s enemies were not to be so easily defeated.  I’ll stop there, because I don’t want to give away the ending. 

As I read the book, I found myself getting frustrated with Pittsfield, as Bouton and Elitzer continued to run smack into a city government that seemed not to care about the voters until Election Day.  I can only imagine how frustrating the process was for Bouton and Elitzer. 

I would strongly recommend Foul Ball to anyone who enjoys reading about the inner workings of city politics, or to anyone who enjoys a good conspiracy theory.  The events that occur in Foul Ball are real, and they happened in a real Massachusetts city, yet the events themselves take on a surreal “I can’t believe this is happening” quality. 

So, to sum up, I read the book because I received it for free from Mr. Bouton’s publishing company, but I enjoyed it all on my own.

The Day to Day Grind Tim 04 Nov 2005 No Comments