EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 17, 2013

Editorial: Catch-and-release felons place public in danger

The Eagle-Tribune

---- — More stories in recent days suggest that a lack of confidence in the ability of our justice system to protect the public is justified.

Last May, Anthony Fowler, 22, entered a Haverhill apartment and crawled into bed with Susan Lavoie, 53. When Lavoie woke to the feeling of hands groping and touching her, she was stunned by fear. Then she began to fight.

“I sat up and started screaming, ‘What are you doing,’ and ‘get out of here,’” she told reporter Mike LaBella. “And he’s laughing at me.”

Lavoie, who has terminal bone cancer, grabbed the metal cane she uses to help her walk and began whacking Fowler with it. Fowler would not get out of the bed and continued to laugh at her. Finally, he left when she threatened to call the police.

Fowler was arrested and charged with indecent assault and battery on a person over 14 and released on $1,000 cash bail.

While awaiting trial on that charge, Fowler entered another person’s home. On Jan. 31, he entered a Haverhill home in the early morning hours, frightening the elderly woman who lived there. She told police she was in her bedroom when she heard a noise and went to investigate. She found Fowler trying to hide behind a refrigerator, saying he needed a place to stay for the night, police said.

Fowler was charged with unarmed burglary and ordered held without bail.

On Feb. 26, Fowler pleaded guilty in court on the indecent assault charge involving Lavoie. The assistant district attorney had sought 18 months incarceration but Judge Stephen Abany agreed with the defense request for two years probation. Fowler was ordered to pay a $50 per month probation fee, remain drug and alcohol free and was relieved of having to register as a sex offender.

The next day, Fowler appeared on court on the unarmed burglary charge, which was amended to breaking and entering in the nighttime. He pleaded guilty and Judge Patricia Dowling sentenced him to four months in the House of Correction, with credit for 28 days served.

Lavoie is rightly outraged.

“Four months doesn’t erase the trauma,” Lavoie told LaBella. “I felt violated and I have no faith in the justice system anymore.

“Every day you see on TV how people like this are let off all the time,” Lavoie said. “But you don’t hear about how they hurt their victims. Why do they keep letting these people out? If they do it once, they’ll do it again.”

Fowler didn’t even wait for the trial on his first offense before he offended again.

In an unrelated incident last Sunday, police say Ronald Beausoleil, 33, of Haverhill, took time out during a shoplifting trip to the Plaistow Walmart to sexually assault a 9-year-old girl in the toy aisle.

That deviant behavior should surprise no one. Beausoleil is a convicted Level 3 sex offender, the classification that identifies those posing the highest risk of offending again. Beausoleil’s Level 3 status stems from a 1999 conviction that included indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, as well as a 2007 probation violation that included open and gross lewdness and lascivious behavior.

Beausoleil’s crimes extend beyond the sexual realm. He is a multi-state offender, with other convictions for theft, marijuana possession and driving while impaired by alcohol.

At the Walmart last Sunday, police say Beausoleil and an accomplice were shoplifting spark plugs. Video surveillance shows Beausoleil following a 9-year-old girl who had become separated from her mother down a toy aisle. The girl told police the man had touched her “privates.”

Beausoleil is being held on $25,000 bail pending a dangerousness hearing tomorrow.

Given his track record, it is stunning that he was on the streets at all.

It’s no wonder that people have little confidence in the justice system. Offenders like these are routinely turned loose to prey on decent people again and again.

Perhaps that would change if judges were required to issue statements explaining their reasoning when they release such felons among us. As it stands now, judges answer to no one — and the public is left to wonder which of us will be the next victim.