Martha Coakley was Massachusetts attorney general barely two weeks in January 2007 when Boston was locked down after authorities discovered what they thought were bombs planted around the city.
The wiring and batteries turned out to be light boards advertising a television cartoon, and the two perpetrators made no friends among the public when they showed no remorse at their first court appearance, even joking about their hairdos.
Despite cries for swift punishment for the men, Coakley declined to press criminal charges, saying it would have been hard to convince a jury the men intended to cause panic. She later announced a $2 million settlement that included community service for them.
The measured, slow-pulse response is a hallmark of the state's first female attorney general, a 56-year-old who has climbed the professional and legal ladders with quiet proficiency.
Among her highest-profile cases: helping successfully prosecute British nanny Louise Woodward after she was accused of shaking an infant to death in 1997.
Now Coakley is the lone woman — and Democratic frontrunner — in the race to replace the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. While she downplays her gender, it has been an underpinning of Coakley's campaign against a field of men.
"I'm still young enough to have a lot of energy to do it, but old enough to have some wisdom and experience," Coakley said moments after she declared her candidacy. "And, frankly, as my Dad said when I graduated from law school, he gave me a plaque that said, 'Sometimes the best man for a job is a woman.'"
Dodie Hughes-LaPlante would testify to that.
In 1999, just two days before Coakley was sworn in as Middlesex district attorney, 19-year-old Betsie Hughes of Townsend and her boyfriend, Sean Wellington, 18, of Pepperell, were killed in a car crash caused by a repeat drunken driver.