In researching the ever-intensifying Massachusetts Senate race between Democrat Martha Coakley and her Republican challenger Scott Brown, it only takes a few keystrokes to unearth her ongoing history of questionable judgment and puzzling prosecutorial decisions. Even though the election has been effectively nationalized, with some polls showing the underdog Brown within two points or so of the colorless Coakley, she remains largely unknown outside New England.
So as a public service to the voters of the Bay State, during the run-up to the special election on Jan. 19, Big Journalism will be offering some of the Martha’s Greatest Hits, so that they can fully make up their minds whether she would make a suitable successor to the late Edward Moore Kennedy – who, as you recall, began his illustrious career by being expelled from Harvard for cheating, went on to drown Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick, and then turned to a life of drinking and debauchery, including the infamous “waitress sandwich” with soon-to-be-retired Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd, before attempting to inflict “universal health care” on the country shortly before his death last year.
You can read all about Ted here in this classic profile of the last and worst of the Kennedy brothers by the late Michael Kelly. Be sure to read the whole thing, just to get a flavor of the kind of candidate Massachusetts voters seem to like.
Homework done? Good. Because Martha Coakley, the current Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and thus its top law enforcement officer, is shaping up as a worthy heir to the Lion of the Senate.
Let’s start with a horrific case that shows Coakley’s inexplicable and appalling lack of judgment:
1. October 2005: The curling-iron toddler rape case. Coakley brings no charges, then lets the rapist out on no bail.
“I’ve been a cop for over 26 years and this is one of the most — if not the most — horrific cases I’ve ever seen.” Police Detective Sgt. Barry Campbell
Even in a place like Boston, which has seen its share of horrific sex crimes in recent years, such as the Jeffrey Curley rape and murder in 1997, this was particularly unsettling. Meet Keith Winfield, child rapist:
From the Boston Globe. Read the whole thing:
Some saw Coakley as lax on ’05 rape case
In October 2005, a Somerville police officer living in Melrose raped his 23-month-old niece with a hot object, most likely a curling iron.
Keith Winfield, then 31, told police he was alone with the toddler that day and made additional statements that would ultimately be used to convict him.
But in the aftermath of the crime, a Middlesex County grand jury overseen by Martha Coakley, then the district attorney, investigated without taking action.
It was only after the toddler’s mother filed applications for criminal complaints that Coakley won grand jury indictments charging rape and assault and battery.
Even then, nearly 10 months after the crime, Coakley’s office recommended that Winfield be released on personal recognizance, with no cash bail. He remained free until December 2007, when Coakley’s successor as district attorney won a conviction and two life terms.
Coakley, now the Democratic candidate for US Senate, has made much of her record prosecuting crimes against children, and says her office handled this investigation appropriately. But the case stands out as one in which she drew criticism for not being aggressive enough. Indeed, the case gave rise to Coakley’s last competitive election.
One of the attorneys who had represented the family of Jeffrey Curley was so outraged at Coakley’s inaction in the Winfield case that he challenged Coakley in her run for A.G. in 2006, but lost.
After Coakley’s foot-dragging, Winfield eventually was found guilty on all four charges of the August 2006 indictment: two counts of rape of a child with force, one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury. He was sentenced to two life terms
So let’s be clear: Martha Coakley failed to take action against a man who molested his own niece, a child, with a curling iron until her hand was finally forced by the victim’s mother.
And that’s just the beginning. Stay tuned for Part Two…