Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis lost his bid for the White House in small part because he stumbled in his response to the Willie Horton saga. Horton was a convicted killer who, out of prison on a weekend pass in 1987, tortured and raped a Maryland woman. Dukakis' failure to exhibit due and swift outrage helped elect the first President Bush.
Now former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is in a similar pickle -- and anxious to signal that he is no Dukakis. A convicted murderer, set free by a Romney-appointed judge, reportedly confessed to a senseless double murder last week. Romney already has called on the judge to resign.
In 1991, Daniel Tavares Jr. stabbed his mother to death. A plea bargain resulted in a 17- to 20-year sentence. After 16 years, the Massachusetts prison system released Tavares because he earned "automatic good time" off, according to the Boston Herald.
But Tavares was no model prisoner. From behind bars, he threatened to kill then-Gov. Romney and other state officials -- and scuffled with prison guards. Immediately upon his release in June, Tavares was re-arrested on two counts of assaulting correctional officers.
In July, Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman overturned two $50,000 bail orders on Tavares and released him on the condition that he work, live in-state with his sister and call probation officials three times a week. This month, Tavares was arrested in the grisly murder of newlyweds Brian and Beverly Mauck in Washington state, reportedly after a dispute over a $50 debt.
"It's because of the stupidity of Massachusetts that my daughter is dead," Beverly's father, Darrell Slater, told the Herald.
A Romney campaign spokesman explained the presidential candidate's call for Tuttman to resign: "I think there was a breakdown in the entire system, starting with the judge. There is such a thing as accountability in government, even for judges with lifetime tenure."
Tuttman is no thug-hugger. She's a former prosecutor who was director of a family crimes and sexual assault unit. She must be agonizing over her decision. Perhaps she was swayed by the defense attorney's argument that the two assault charges, filed 15 months and 18 months after the fact, were designed to "continue to keep Mr. Tavares incarcerated." I should note that the Worcester County D.A.'s office -- and hence the judge -- was not aware of Tavares' alleged threats against Romney and other Bay State officials.