The Details: Coakley, Amirault, Woodward And Souza

by Dan Riehl | January 15, 2010 7:11 am

After reading a post by Michelle Malkin that mentions the issue of: an over-zealous prosecution by Martha Coakley[1]: in the Amirault case, and also following up on a link by Instapundit to a Radley Balko item[2], I first went digging around to see if Coakley: had ever commented on the Amirault: case. Coakley declined to be interviewed for Dorothy Rabinowitz’s recent: damning article in the WSJ[3]: dealing with Amirault.

That’s when I stumbled upon an extensive: cached Boston Globe article from 1999[4]. While perhaps a glowing portrait of Coakley at the time, in hindsight, it: details how: Amirault was not the first ultimately flawed case that taught Martha Coakley what a high-profile, over zealously prosecuted case could do for a prosecutor’s career. Enter Louise Woodward, the case of an au pair accused of shaking a baby to death. It: gained international attention for Coakley and all but launched her career. But it has not held up over the years, despite serving Coakley and not justice well at the time. Oh, and she already had a PR guy in tow wherever she went way back then, too,: it appears.

Coakley is the only one in the place wearing a suit – a tailored maroon jacket and thigh-high skirt – except for her PR man, who sits stiffly at her side. “The biggest problem we have in Framingham is the theft of Beanie Babies,’ she (Coakley) jokes, referring to the recent discovery of a cache of stolen toys.

It is not exactly sexy stuff. And it is definitely not the kind of stuff that draws the international television cameras that zeroed in on Coakley when she prosecuted the celebrated nanny murder case, winning a conviction of 19-year-old Louise Woodward.

No one, after all, knows the benefit of exposure better than Coakley. She was a relatively anonymous assistant prosecutor in the Middlesex office until the media explosion that engulfed the Woodward case slapped her into the red plush armchair of the Today Show and onto television screens around the world. One year later, at 46, she holds the top prosecutor’s job in the state’s largest county, is the first woman to be elected outright to a DA’s post in the state (the only other female DA was initially appointed to fill an empty seat), and is easily mentioned as a possible candidate for attorney general, for lieutenant governor, perhaps even for governor. With her closet of red power suits and her white Miata, not to mention a canny combatant’s mind, why not the US Congress?

Coakley was certainly proud of herself while basking in the media glow.

“I felt I could die happy as a prosecutor at that stage,’ Coakley recalls.

It’s what happened after she finished taking her bows that’s most troubling of all.: 

Woodward’s legal team filed post-conviction motions to the trial court, and the hearing opened on 4 November. In the days following the verdict it emerged that the jury had been split about the murder charge, but those who had favoured an acquittal were persuaded to accept a conviction. This fact was of no legal consequence, however. None of the jury “thought she tried to murder him,” one member said.

On 10 November, at a post-conviction relief hearing, Judge Hiller B. Zobel reduced the conviction to involuntary manslaughter, stating that “the circumstances in which the defendant acted were characterised by confusion, inexperience, frustration, immaturity and some anger, but not malice in the legal sense supporting a conviction for second-degree murder,” adding: “I am morally certain that allowing this defendant on this evidence to remain convicted of second-degree murder would be a miscarriage of justice”.

Woodward’s sentence was reduced to time served (279 days) and she was freed.

And then it gets worse[5].: 

In 2007, Dr Patrick Barnes, the prosecution’s star medical witness, reversed his opinion: he concluded that death could have been caused by an old injury, as argued by the defense. In a scientific paper he states: “The science we have today could, in fact, have exonerated Louise. There is certainly, in retrospect, reasonable doubt.”

See the Rape of the Souza Family[6]: for instance. The alleged rapist in that item is Martha Coakley, not the family that was destroyed. For Coakley, it was: yet another notch in her: belt and claim to fame. Sadly, there does seem to be something of a disturbing pattern here.

If you read the entire Globe: item[7]: and the links above, a portrait emerges of: Martha Coakley: as an overly-zealous: prosecutor who: very early on learned the career value of a high-profile case. Every time her career landed her somewhere without access to “the action” and the camera’s glare, she quickly changed directions to get back in the spotlight, again.: 

Then, finding: herself where she didn’t even want to be, prosecuting: child abuse cases,: she quickly found precisely the types of cases to keep her visible, moving: her ever forward in her career and: bringing her fame.: Unfortunately for Coakley, many damning questions, along with: incredible damage to apparently: innocent individuals, also rests in her wake. And it’s there: in too many cases to: wonder if: the reason isn’t something more than coincidence.

Coakley, who took over the Middlesex child abuse unit in 1991, did not want the job. Partly because they were complex, specialized cases, and partly because she did not want “to start at the bottom again’ in an area in which she had virtually no experience. But in the end, her five years in the position would be a defining theme of her career. During that time, she prosecuted some of the county’s highest profile cases, their names blasted on the nightly news: the Rev. Paul Manning, a Woburn priest acquitted of sexually assaulting an altar boy. Corby and Nancy Adkinson, sentenced in 1997 to 45 and 35 years, respectively, for drugging and raping their four young sons. Then there were Ray and Shirley Souza, the Lowell grandparents whose 1993 conviction on charges of raping their grandchildren became the subject of a fierce national debate over recovered memories and landed them on the cover of Newsweek and on national TV.

Although nationally several high-profile convictions for sexual abuse have since been overturned, blamed both on overzealous prosecutors and flawed techniques for interviewing children, professional opinion remains divided over how much of what children say can be believed. Coakley bristles at the notion that frenzy over child abuse led to unjust convictions. Rather, she says, the reversals of some convictions stem from procedural issues unique to each case and should not be lumped together.

Cross-posted at Riehl World View[8].

  1. a post by Michelle Malkin that mentions the issue of: an over-zealous prosecution by Martha Coakley:
  2. a link by Instapundit to a Radley Balko item:
  3. Dorothy Rabinowitz’s recent: damning article in the WSJ:
  4. an extensive: cached Boston Globe article from 1999:
  5. then it gets worse:
  6. the Rape of the Souza Family:
  7. the entire Globe: item:
  8. Riehl World View:

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