Mitt Romney continued to campaign hard in New Hampshire, as part of his strategy of building up an insurmountable momentum for the Republican Presidential nomination by taking the early contests of Iowa and the Granite State. On Saturday, November 24th, the handsome and telegenic Romney marched in a parade sans hat in freezing temperatures in Allentown, New Hampshire, which is located halfway between Manchester, the state’s largest city, and Concord, the state capital.
Romney enjoys a comfortable lead in the polls over his two nearest rivals, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain. However, the contest is still wide open as the numbers of uncommitted Republicans and independent voters, who can request the ballot of either party on election day, remain in the majority among those registered voters likely to go to the polls. With the primary set for January 8, 2008, there is a little over six weeks left to campaign.
In press conference held in Derry, New Hampshire on Saturday, Romney addressed the question of the judge he had appointed to the Massachusetts Superior Court, who had granted release to a convicted killer who subsequently migrated to Washington State, where he killed again. Romney called on the judge to resign.
Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman, rejected the request of prosecutors to hold Daniel Tavares, Jr. on $50,000 bail after he was arrested on assault charges. A lower court had required that he post bail or stay in prison on the grounds that Tavares had assaulted prison guards and was still dangerous. Tavares, who had been released from prison in June after serving 16 years for murdering his mother, was sprung from behind bars a year early for “good behavior” despite his assault on guards and his threats against public officials. According to the Boston Herald, in February 2006, Tavares has threatened to kill Governor Romney and other public officials, including then-Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly.
The 41-year old Tavares, who had been sentenced to 17-20 years in behind bars for manslaughter in 1991 for slashing his mother to death, was released a year early for good behavior, according to the Herald, despite his record of assaulting gods and making threats. Tavares had been incarcerated with the state’s most violent prisoners at the Disciplinary Disorders Unit (DDU) at MCI-Cedar Junction, Massachusetts’ maximum security prison.
The Boston Globe featured Tavares in an April 4, 2004 article on the DDU. According to the article “The Solitary Men” by Robert Preer, “The special segregation unit, where inmates…are kept in their cells 23 hours a day, is the jail of the Massachusetts prison system. It houses what authorities call the worst of the worst — men who have assaulted guards, attacked or even killed other inmates…or violated some other rule of prison.”
According to the article, Tavares had already been in the DDU for five years as of 2004, and was scheduled to remain there for the rest of his sentence. Tavares’ sentence had been extended many times due to disputes and physical assaults on the guards. He was described by prison administrators as a “troublemaker.”
In July 2007, Tuttman’s decision to grant a bail waiver to Tavares reversed the lower court’s decision. Her action is unusual in that Tavares’ own court-appointed attorney , Eugene Lumelsky, had asked the lower court that set the bail at $50,000 to reduce it to $10,000. Tuttman waived bail completely, and ordered Tavares to regularly check in with a probation officer and go to work at Davon Steel, a company which apparently does not exist, according to Herald writers Michele McPhee and Jessica Van Sack.
Released on his own recognizance by Tuttman, the convicted killer subsequently violated the terms of his parole and left Massachusetts for Washington State to go live with a woman he had met on an online prison dating service. After marrying the woman, Tavares allegedly shot to death a married couple, Brian and Beverly Mauck, who lived near him in the Tacoma, Washington suburb of Graham, where he lived with his new wife Jennifer Lynn Tavares in a trailer. Seeking to collect a $50 debt owed to him by Brian Mauck, Tavares allegedly kicked in the door of their home, then shot the couple to death, execution-style with a .22 caliber handgun wrapped in a towel. Both victims were shot three times in the head.
Daniel Tavares, who has pleaded not guilty to first degree murder and illegal possession of a handgun, allegedly confessed to the multiple murder, claiming that the 30-year old Brian Mauck had insulted him and that 28-year old Beverly Mauck had insulted his wife. Jennifer Tavares, who had lied to police to give her husband an alibi, was charged with a misdemeanor for attempting to cover up the crime. Daniel Tavares could face the death penalty for the murders.
Romney had been warned of Tavares’ threat to assassinate him, and Bay State officials counseled the candidate that he should be cautious when campaigning in Washington State. Police officials in Pierce County, Washington were outraged that Massachusetts had not informed them of the convicted killer’s presence, despite their knowledge that he was in the state.
The Herald quoted Pierce County, Washington Sheriff’s Office spokesman Ed Troyer, who said the local police were angry that Massachusetts had given a convicted killer a “free pass” and then had failed to inform Washington State authorities about his presence.
“How does a guy who’s already killed his own mother get out here without us knowing about it?”
Before she was elevated to the bench, Judge Tuttman was a prosecutor from Essex, Massachusetts who then-Governor Romney appointed to the Superior Court in 2006 after meeting with her and reviewing her qualifications. After Romney endorsed her nomination, she was approved by the Governor’s Council, a state-level government organ that screens and confirms gubernatorial appointees. The selection of Tuttman for a judicial appointment was widely praised: in 2005, The career prosecutor was the recipient of the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance Criminal Justice Award for Outstanding Victim Advocacy for her work as head of the family crimes and sexual assault unit.
To avoid a “Willie Horton” incident, the likes of which helped sink the Presidential aspirations of fellow former Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis, Romney was quick to turn on his appointee, calling for her to resign from the bench at the press conference during his stopover in Derry, New Hampshire. Romney has not expressed any regret for the appointment, which may backfire against him.
According to the Herald, Beverly Mauck’s father already has called for Romney to be held accountable for the murder. “He was the governor – he picked this judge,” the Herald quoted Darrel Slater. “He should be answering for what happened.”
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, lagging far behind Romney in the New Hampshire polls, has seized upon the issue to question Romney’s bona-fides as a crime fighter. Giuliani is running on his reputation as a federal prosecutor who jailed major mafia figures and who cleaned up The Big Apple during his two terms as mayor.
It is forecasted by political scientists that if Romney doesn’t issue a public mea culpa to successfully put the issue behind him, another candidate or seemingly independent political action committee (PAC) will turn the incident into the basis for an attack ad.
The media in attendance at the Derry press conference and the Allentown parade were quick to characterize the judge incident as a potential “Willie Horton” issue for Romney that may doom his candidacy. A prisoner incarcerated in Massachusetts who fled the state and committed a murder in Maryland while on a prison furlough, Willie Horton became an issue during the 1988 Presidential campaign between Mike Dukakis, the Democratic nominee, and then-Vice President George H.W. Bush. Arguably the most significant issue of the 1988 Presidential campaign was crime and race, which was objectified by the Bush camp in the prison furlough issue. The Bush campaign criticized Dukakis for a prison furlough program that resulted in the release of convicted murderer Willie Horton, an African American, who committed a rape and assault in Maryland after fleeing Massachusetts.
Despite the fact that the furlough program was started before Dukakis and that the federal government under Ronald Reagan had a similar program that had resulted in similar outcomes, Bush decided to play the race card. Bush mentioned Horton by name in a speech in June 1988 while an “independent” PAC legally not affiliated with the Bush campaign, the National Security PAC, aired an ad entitled “Weekend Passes” which used a mug shot image of Horton. The Bush campaign refused to repudiate it, and indeed, followed it up with its own, official campaign ad, “Revolving Door,” criticizing Dukakis over the furlough program without mentioning Horton.
The issue may not have traction among Republican primary voters. The majority of Allentown citizens who were interviewed by TV news crews said that the issue was unlikely to hurt Romney, as he was human, not perfect, and human beings make mistakes.