The Boston Globe

Leaders Ask for Innocence Panel in Massachusetts

By Douglas Belkin, Boston Globe Staff, 11/11/2003

Saying that Shawn Drumgold is the "tip of the iceberg," the head of the Massachusetts public defender's office yesterday called on the state to create an innocence commission to review the cases of other inmates, and Drumgold's attorney demanded that the police who investigated his case be held accountable.

"The evidence suggests that members of the Boston police engaged in egregious misconduct," said Drumgold's attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio. "We cannot give Shawn back the 15 years he spent in prison for a crime he did not commit, but I am convinced that if we can find out why the system failed and how we can fix it, we can prevent others from suffering the same fate."

During a news conference yesterday, Drumgold refused to condemn the system that wrongfully imprisoned him for the 1988 slaying of 12-year-old Darlene Tiffany Moore, saying only that he is "disappointed."

William J. Leahy, chief counsel for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, urged the Legislature and Governor Mitt Romney to create a panel similar to the innocence commission created in Illinois after several death row inmates were exonerated.

Leahy said Drumgold was one of hundreds of wrongfully imprisoned people in the state.

"It's important to know that . . . we tolerate a criminal justice system in which errors are rampant," Leahy said. "Every knowledgeable person who has studied this issue understands that there is some percentage . . . of people who are wrongfully convicted, wrongfully incarcerated and . . . every time that happens it means the guilty party is never apprehended, never convicted, and is let free."

Drumgold walked out of jail on Thursday after Superior Court Judge Barbara J. Rouse vacated his conviction, saying "justice was not done" at his 1989 trial and that the "system had failed."

Days before the judge's ruling, the Suffolk district attorney's office -- which reexamined the case in response to an investigative report in the Globe in May -- filed papers asserting that Drumgold's conviction was flawed, citing newly discovered evidence and possible official wrongdoing.

Smiling and laughing occasionally during the news conference yesterday, Drumgold said he was amazed at how much the city has changed since he was incarcerated. He said he spent his first few days of freedom reconnecting with his family, eating, and trying to figure out how to answer cellphones.

His wife, Rachelle, whom he married after his incarceration, said she was trying to get used to her husband's snoring.

"I'm ready to start my life because if I stay stuck in the past, then I won't ever be able to move on," Drumgold said.

To get the "other Shawn Drumgolds" out of prison, Leahy, Leslie Walker, the executive director of Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services, and Scapicchio said the innocence commission should be one of Romney's top priorities.

Shawn Feddeman, a spokeswoman for Romney, said yesterday that because the Moore killing is still unsolved "it would be inappropriate for us to comment" on the case, or on a proposed investigation into Drumgold's wrongful conviction.

Romney had no comment on Leahy's request to convene an innocence commission, Feddeman said.

In the nearly 13 years she has represented Drumgold, Scapicchio said she had never discussed the possibility of a civil suit for his wrongful arrest. Attorney Frank A. Libby Jr., who is suing the FBI for alleged misconduct, said winning such a case is very difficult.

David Procopio, spokesman for District Attorney Daniel Conley -- who was not in office when Drumgold was convicted -- said there were no plans to apologize to Drumgold.

"There was no evidence of intentional misconduct, no coercion, and no intimidation," Procopio said.

"What the district attorney owed Shawn Drumgold was not an apology, but rather his fairness and objectivity and that's what Shawn Drumgold got."

How the System Works
Police/Prosecutor Misconduct

Truth in Justice