By Lisa Redmond
LOWELL -- The system failed Jennifer Martel.
That, said a local victim's advocate, is the message that needs to be heard in the case of Jared Remy, who was released without bail for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, only to be accused of killing her the next day.
"The system began failing Jennifer Martel shortly after she reported the assault to the Waltham Police Department," said Laurie Myers of the Chelmsford-based Community Voices.
Remy was arrested Aug. 13 on charges he assaulted Martel, his longtime girlfriend and mother of his 4-year-old daughter. He was released from the Waltham police station on personal recognizance, which was set by the bail commissioner, to appear in court the next day.
"That bail commissioner's actions set the tone for exactly how this case was going to be handled," Myers said.
"The actions of the people Jen Martel reached out to are inexcusable," Myers added. "We know she was abused (police report), we know she was afraid (restraining order obtained the night Remy was released on personal recognizance), and the best anyone could do was to view this case as if it was a shoplifting case."
The circumstances surrounding Remy's release ignited a debate about what the state should be doing to protect domestic-violence victims. Advocates argue that the state is obliged to do whatever it can to protect victims; defense attorneys who spoke to The Sun said they worry there will be a rush to enact bad laws that will make victims feel even more uncomfortable.
Critics have faulted Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan's office for not seeking bail on Remy, despite his long record of assaults, including two threat cases from 2000 and 2001 involving Lowell women.
"I cannot for the life of me understand why they (prosecutors) didn't move forward with a dangerousness hearing or, at the minimum, ask for bail," Myers said.
Ryan said her staff deferred to Martel's wishes that Remy be released from court without bail. Prosecutors did ask for a stay-away/no-contact order as part of Remy's release. Martel took out an emergency overnight restraining order against Remy after the assault, but let it lapse.
Ryan has named a pair of prosecutors, former Essex District Attorney Kevin Burke and Norfolk County Assistant District Attorney Jeanmarie Carroll, to review the circumstances that led to Remy's release without bail.
"The death of Jennifer Martel is a horrific tragedy, and it would be irresponsible for our office not to re-examine what happened," Ryan said in a statement.
The review will look at the factors that led prosecutors to decide not to seek to have Remy detained, and determine whether they followed procedures.
It will also take a look at those procedures to see whether they are "sufficient to adequately address the offender release issues which arise in domestic violence cases," according to the statement.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, the former Middlesex district attorney, said in a statement that her office is reviewing domestic-violence laws and policies statewide, including those involved in this case, to determine what changes should be made to better protect victims.
But attorney Wendy Murphy, a longtime victims' advocate, said that in this case the District Attorney's Office "didn't drop the ball -- they spiked it."
Murphy said research has long shown that certain red flags indicate a particularly high risk of domestic violence homicide. "Lethality risk assessments" have been around for more than a decade, and experienced prosecutors like Ryan know exactly how they work and why they're effective, she said.
The most significant red flags include a past history of domestic abuse, threats to kill, strangulation and the use of weapons. When these factors are present, Murphy said, prosecutors have no excuse not to use all available tools to protect the victim from deadly violence.
If the victim can't help himself or herself, should the state laws for domestic violence be strengthened to do it for them?
"Is this an opportunity to look at stronger laws to protect victims? Yes," Myers said.
Community Voices has called on the Legislature's Committee on Post Audit and Oversight to investigate how this case was handled.
The investigation should include the actions of the Waltham police, and the bail commissioner, as well as recommendations of what policy and legislation should be filed in response, Myers said.
"Every police department should have an officer who specializes in supporting victims at the time the crime is reported, but what we need more is the enforcement of our current laws and an end to the cavalier way these cases are handled by the people in charge of protecting victims and the public," Myers said.
Toni Troop, executive director of Jane Doe Inc., said her organization doesn't, at this point, have specific requests for laws to be changed. "It's more about adopting the best practices and using the laws we currently have," Troop said.
Murphy suggested that Ryan should also be the first prosecutor in Massachusetts to announce that her office will adopt a "no-drop" policy. Battered women in Massachusetts are currently allowed to "drop" criminal charges in domestic-violence cases, even though research shows that this facilitates even more abuse and is correlated with an increased risk of domestic-violence homicides, Murphy said.
Defense attorney Roland Milliard said the "knee jerk" reaction to this horrible case is for the Legislature to enact new domestic-violence laws to "pacify the public."
"That will use a bad case to make bad laws," said Milliard, who has handled many domestic-abuse cases in his career. "The smart thing to do is to do nothing."
Local defense attorney Robert Normandin, who specializes in domestic-violence cases, said he doesn't think prosecutors in the Remy case did anything wrong.
"You can't force victims to accept help," Normandin said. "You want the resources available to advise the victim, but you also want to honor the alleged victim's wishes. The last thing you want is for the victim to feel uncomfortable in contacting the police or the DA's office."
Based on 2012 statewide district court statistics, following are the number of restraining orders issued across the state since 2005 (fiscal years): 2005 -- 35,656; 2006 -- 35,396; 2007 -- 35,981; 2008 -- 40,360; 2009 -- 38,685; 2010 -- 38,365; 2011 -- 46,931; 2012 -- 46,141.
In fiscal 2012, the number of restraining orders in the local courts were: Ayer, 392; Concord, 213; Fitchburg, 611; and Lowell, 2,072.
But if a suspect is intent on hurting a victim, restraining and stay-away orders are only as good as the paper they are written on, the lawyers agree.
"If this guy (Remy) is of the mindset that he is going to hurt her, do you think he's going to change his mind because she has a restraining order or a stay-away order?" Milliard asked.
Normandin praised the district attorney's victim-witness advocates for doing a good job of advising victims.
Every morning in Lowell District Court, a small group of victim-witness advocates sit in the first-session courtroom long before the judge takes the bench and begins the daily ritual of calling victims of overnight assaults.
They are checking with each victim to see if he or she plans on seeking civil restraining orders against the suspects, or if the prosecutor should ask a judge for a criminal stay away/no contact order on the victim's behalf.
By violating a civil restraining order, the suspect is charged with a crime. Violating a stay away/no contact order violates the suspect's condition of release and the person could be immediately jailed.
But Murphy said, "Someone needs to clean house and get rid of all the victim advocates and prosecutors in this state who don't care enough about women's lives to demand that they receive the full and equal protection of our laws."
Milliard speculates the effect of this case is that the district attorney may issue a policy in which prosecutors will automatically ask judges for bail and a stay-away order on every assault case, even if the victim doesn't want it.
"Then the judge will take the heat if the stay away isn't granted," Milliard said.
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