For father of slain woman, 13-year fight finally ends
MILTON — The call from the governor’s office came in about 2:30 p.m., and with it, 13 years of waiting ended for Les Gosule.
Moments after hearing the news, Gosule let out a whoop.
“The governor is doing the right thing,” Gosule told co-workers, who had gathered at his accounting office to congratulate him.
Since his daughter Melissa’s murder in 1999, Gosule has pushed for a proposal that would bar parole for certain repeat felons. And in Tuesday’s call, he learned that “Melissa’s Bill” will soon become law.
Governor Deval Patrick’s decision to approve the habitual offender legislation, reached despite reservations about a lack of judicial discretion and the bill’s potential impact on minority communities, touched off a flurry of phone calls to Gosule from reporters and legislators.
Gosule answered them all. He felt “jubilant,” he told them. He was “exuberant.”
But in an interview Tuesday afternoon, the accountant-turned-activist struck a more somber tone as he discussed the impact of Patrick’s decision.
“I’m up at night thinking about my daughter being raped,” he said. “I don’t want anybody else to think like that.”
Gosule’s nightmare began on July 11, 1999. His eldest daughter, Melissa, 27, a teacher who had just finished a training run for an AIDS bike ride, had trouble starting her car. She flagged down passing motorist Michael Gentile for help.
Police say that Gentile brought Melissa into the woods, where he raped her and stabbed her repeatedly in the neck.
Gosule’s body was found in Pembroke eight days later.
As if the grief were not enough, it soon emerged that Gentile had a record of 27 previous convictions, for which he had served a total of less than two years.
Les Gosule was stunned. Despite having no background in politics, he decided to channel his sadness into working for tougher sentencing laws.
In 2000, the same year a jury found Gentile guilty in Melissa’s murder, Gosule began reaching out to state lawmakers, trying to interest them in a bill that would eliminate the option of parole for certain serial offenders.
Initially, he expected that the legislation would pass quickly. To him, a habitual offender bill seemed like a common-sense solution to keeping dangerous criminals behind bars.
He soon found out it would not be that easy. “People told me it wasn’t going to happen,” he recalled Tuesday. “This took a lot of door walking.”
That is something of an understatement, said Representative Bradford Hill, a Republican from Ipswich and one of the bill’s sponsors. In addition to talking to any legislator he could, Gosule became something of a fixture at the State House, testifying repeatedly in front of legislative committees and holding impromptu press conferences in the hallways.
“He did that because he wanted people to understand that this is what a family goes through when that happens,” Hill said.
For years, however, the legislation stalled. “Everybody would say it’s a good bill, we’ve got to put it into study,” Gosule said. “And ‘study’ on Beacon Hill means ‘Death Trap.’ ”
The bill’s opponents included members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, who raised questions about the legislation’s fairness. The bill “removes the judicial discretion that is fundamental to the purpose of our judicial system,” the caucus cochairs wrote in a letter to lawmakers last month.
But overall momentum shifted over the past year, spurred in part by public outcry over the December 2010 slaying of John Maguire, a Woburn police officer, by a repeat violent offender.
Both the House and Senate passed the bill by large margins, but the governor’s support remained uncertain until Tuesday afternoon.
Gosule deserves much of the credit, Hill said. “Clearly, 90 percent of the reason this passed was because of Les Gosule and his hard work,” he said Tuesday night. “He felt so strongly that this should never, ever happen to another daughter or to another son. That is what drove him to where we are today.”
Gosule said he remains frustrated at how long it took to pass the bill and said there is more work to be done next session to strengthen the law to further protect potential victims. But he was also relieved. “Thirteen years,” he said, “is a long time to fight for something.”
Adam Sege can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AdamSege.