Marian T. Ryan, who was named Middlesex district attorney Tuesday, is not only familiar with violent crime from her three decades as a prosecutor. She is herself a survivor.
On Oct. 2, 1980, Ryan was sitting in her boyfriend’s car on Memorial Drive in Cambridge when two men approached. When one man tried to yank open the door and pull Ryan out, her boyfriend, Edward T. Bigham III, pushed her back into the seat. In the ensuing struggle, Bigham, a 28-year-old prosecutor, was shot in the chest and killed. Ryan, then a 25-year-old prosecutor, was so close to the pistol she had gunpowder burns on her face.
In the years since, Ryan has testified against the killer’s release at Parole Board hearings and has objected to his requests to be transferred to a minimum-security prison.
“That was really a life-
altering experience that gave me a lot more breadth and depth in being a prosecutor, and I think that has been a benefit to the way I prosecute cases,” she said in an interview Tuesday.
In choosing Ryan, Governor Deval Patrick turned to a woman with 34 years of experience in the office, but who has never run for elected office.
Nevertheless, Ryan, a 58-year-old Belmont Democrat, said Tuesday that she intends to seek a full four-year term as Middlesex district attorney when an election is held for the seat in fall 2014.
She is filling a vacancy created by the resignation of Gerard T. Leone Jr., her former boss, who joined a private law firm earlier this month.
“It is my hope to be in the seat for a long time,” said Ryan, who was most recently the office’s general counsel and chief of its Elder and Disabled Unit. Asked about her lack of political experience, she said, “I think I can learn that,” and added, “I’m looking forward to that. I like the public outreach.”
The job has traditionally been a launching pad to statewide office.
Previous district attorneys in Middlesex County include Scott Harshbarger, Thomas F. Reilly, and Martha Coakley, all of whom were later elected attorney general of Massachusetts. Ryan would not comment on aspirations she might have for higher office, pointing out with a laugh that she had only been sworn in as district attorney three hours earlier.
“I’m really humbled by the responsibility the governor has given me,” she said. “This is the job I’ve always wanted, and I look forward to doing it and doing it well.”
John H. Cunha Jr., a veteran Boston defense lawyer, said he has known Ryan since they studied together at Boston College Law School. As a lawyer, he said, he was once on the losing end of an assault case that she prosecuted.
He said Ryan is thoughtful, fair, and a good trial lawyer.
“I like the fact she has a lot of experience, and she’s not some young lawyer coming in and thinking this is going to be an ambitious stepping stone,” said Cunha, a past president of the Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “She’s well-grounded in the office and well-grounded in her life, and I think that’s a real positive.”
Serving under five district attorneys, Ryan has prosecuted hundreds of cases in district and superior courts and argued more than 40 cases in the Appeals Court and the Supreme Judicial Court, according to Patrick’s office.
A mother of two, she said she has a passion for trying to prevent crime by working with children and with the elderly, who are often targeted by criminals. She said she also hopes to expand the office’s workplace safety program.
“Marian brings a great wealth of experience as a prosecutor generally and in the Middlesex County DA’s office in particular,” Patrick said in a statement. “I am confident she brings the rigor, tenacity, integrity, and compassion to take an already strong team to even greater heights.”