Metro

20 years after his murder, prosecutor is remembered

Paul R. McLaughlin.
Paul R. McLaughlin.

It fell to Ralph C. Martin II to identify him at the Boston hospital where first responders rushed Paul R. McLaughlin even though they knew his killer had been lethally precise when he fired a bullet into the prosecutor’s head.

“I remember it very well,” Martin said Friday in a telephone interview. He was the Suffolk district attorney at the time. “I had to identify his body and then I had to call his parents. . . . The whole night I remember.’’

Martin was talking about Sept. 25, 1995, when McLaughlin, an assistant attorney general working as a gang prosecutor in the Suffolk district attorney’s office, was assassinated in West Roxbury by a leader of the Theodore Street gang. He was the first, and only, Massachusetts prosecutor killed because of the job he did.

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Though 20 years have passed, Martin and many other lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys have never forgotten how he died — but they also have always treasured, remembered and tried to emulate how McLaughlin lived.

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“When it comes to fairness and integrity — the essence of an honorable prosecutor, attorney, and human being — Paul was the standard-bearer for all of us and always will be,’’ said David Meier, now a Boston defense attorney but then a prosecutor and friend of McLaughlin.

Daniel F. Conley, the current Suffolk district attorney and a colleague of McLaughlin’s, hosted a memorial Mass for McLaughlin on Thursday , followed by a gathering at the Edward W. Brooke Courthouse in Boston that was attended by hundreds, including members of McLaughlin’s family.

“Paul McLaughlin was a good and decent man who believed in the work for which he ultimately gave his life,’’ Conley told the gathering. “What I love about the monuments to Paul McLaughlin is that they aren’t cast in stone, but are themselves alive and always contributing to the life of this city.’’

McLaughlin, who was 42 when he died, began his law enforcement career in 1983 along with Martin. Both were hired by Scott Harshbarger, the new Middlesex district attorney, a post Harshbarger held before becoming attorney general.

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“I try to use him as an example to law school students and new lawyers. It was a life cut far too short, too soon, but it was a life well-lived,’’ Harshbarger said Friday. “He proved you can be a decent, honest, sensitive, quiet person and still be remarkable. He was a hero.’’

When Harshbarger was elected attorney general in 1990, McLaughlin followed him and became an assistant attorney general. Martin, meanwhile, had become the Suffolk district attorney.

Both turned to McLaughlin to participate in the groundbreaking idea of having a state prosecutor focused on a city problem — in this case, the gangs that made Boston a much more violent place than it is today. In the first five years of the 1990s, 620 people were murdered in the city.

McLaughlin took the assignment because it fit with his unshaking faith in the ability of the law to improve the lives of all, especially those whose economic station had forced them to live among ruthless, heavily armed gangs.

“Paul was very ecumenical in his work as a prosecutor,’’ Martin said. “It’s not every day you are going to hear someone put the word prosecutor and ecumenical in the same sentence. But that’s the way Paul approached his work . . . He really believed that prosecutors could do uplifting work and build communities.’’

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And that’s why, his friends said, McLaughlin was preparing to put Jeffrey L. Bly on trial for a carjacking in Suffolk Superior Court on Sept. 26, 1995 — the day after he was killed. Bly, McLaughlin came to believe, would never change, would never leave the gang on Theodore Street he led, would never be a positive force in Mattapan.

During the ensuing investigation, authorities learned that Bly concluded that the only way he could avoid prison for the carjacking was to kill McLaughlin. He used his gang members to track McLaughlin’s movements from the courthouse to the MBTA commuter lot in West Roxbury, where the prosecutor parked every work day and put a lock on his steering wheel, authorities said.

Around 7 p.m., Bly approached McLaughlin as he sat in his car and fired once into his head.

“It was a really depraved act that came out of a very narrow and sort of evil view of how someone could get rid of his own particular problem,’’ Martin said. “It was stupid.’’

Bly was convicted of first-degree murder in 1999 and is currently serving his life without parole sentence at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison, state records show.

Since his death, McLaughlin’s friends and families have taken steps to honor him. His name was given to the Boys and Girls Club facility in Dorchester because of his commitment to building communities, and his name is attached to the annual award for the top prosecutor in the Suffolk district attorney’s office.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.
com
. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.