In the wake of widespread criticism of her handling of the domestic abuse case that allegedly led to Jennifer Martel’s slaying, Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan has made the distressing announcement that she will investigate herself.
Even worse, she seems to have already concluded that her office did nothing wrong.
In interviews with reporters earlier this week, Ryan insisted that her office, acting with all the available facts, made all the right calls in its prosecution of Jared Remy, who now stands accused of stabbing the mother of his child to death last Thursday.
It’s not hard to feel a bit of sympathy for Ryan, a longtime prosecutor who was named to replace her former boss, Gerry Leone, earlier this year. By all accounts, she is an able and extremely conscientious prosecutor. But her years in the trenches have not prepared her for the kind of spotlight she finds herself under. The public statements of Ryan and her staff have seemed defensive and self-serving.
Without question, the criticism she’s getting is at least partly driven by hindsight. Remy was arrested the night of Aug. 13, freed on his own recognizance, and appeared for a court hearing the next morning. There was little, if any, physical evidence of battery, and his court appearance refuted the notion that he was a risk to flee.
But Remy also had a history of domestic abuse. Ryan’s critics have argued that his record should have been a signal to prosecutors to seek either bail or a dangerousness hearing, which could have resulted in a judge agreeing to hold Remy temporarily.
In an interview Monday, Ryan noted that Martel did not attend Remy’s arraignment and told prosecutors that she did not want to extend the emergency restraining order that was issued the night of his arrest and that expired the next morning.
But two former high-ranking prosecutors that I spoke to Tuesday were critical of the idea that Martel’s reluctance to pursue legal action should have been a deciding factor in how to proceed. Both spoke on condition of anonymity, because they are not involved in the case.
“You want to be careful not to sound like you’re blaming the victim,” one of them said. “The fact is, we make decisions all the time contrary to the wishes of the victim because we think we know better than they do what the situation is.”
The former prosecutor also said that Remy’s record might have been valid grounds for at least asking a judge to hold him, particularly due to the nature of domestic violence cases.
“Maybe for seven years he hadn’t been in the court, but there was a documented history,” he said. “[But] you can go years without a victim telling anyone [of abuse] because you have a lot of barriers to disclosure.”
Both noted, with regret, that Remy’s high profile — he is the son of Red Sox broadcaster Jerry Remy — should have led to closer monitoring from supervisors in her office than the case might have received otherwise. Even before becoming a homicide, the case was likely to attract public attention.
One wondered if the decision not to attempt to hold Remy had been properly vetted by senior prosecutors. He suggested that a district court prosecutor would not usually decide unilaterally how to handle a sensitive case, with possible political ramifications for his or her boss.
Both believed that the case might reflect flaws in the way domestic violence cases are handled, and for that reason the handling of the case should be investigated.
Ryan declared that “the Middlesex district attorney’s office is fully capable of conducting a review of our internal processes.’’
But that’s a terrible idea. As a person who investigates cases for a living, Ryan surely knows that a DA’s office can’t investigate itself. My experts suggest a former prosecutor for the job, or a respected defense lawyer.
“In terms of the public’s confidence, the recommendations and findings of an independent investigator will have more credibility,” one said. “That’s just a fact of life.”