Judging the System: Deputy Shooting Raises New Questions About Bail in Massachusetts

The arrest in Haverhill last month of a man who now is accused of killing a sheriff's deputy in Maine is raising new questions about the bail system in Massachusetts.

John Daniel Williams, 29, of Madison, Maine, is accused of shooting Cpl. Eugene Cole to death early Wednesday morning in Norridgewock.

NBC10 Boston acquired court audio of two hearings in Massachusetts last month in which Williams ultimately wound up with bail set at half what prosecutors requested.

In Williams' arraignment in district court on March 22, the assistant district attorney asked for $10,000 cash bail, citing Williams' out-of-state residency and the large-capacity weapon police said he carried in the trunk of his car.

"[It's] concerning, judge, someone in his condition driving around the commonwealth with a significant amount of firepower at his disposal," the prosecutor said.

According to the police report, Williams and his girlfriend were pulled over on the side of Interstate 495 in Haverhill. A state trooper pulled over to check on them, and, according to the report, was suspicious because Williams had glassy eyes and appeared intoxicated.

The trooper found a gun, a large capacity magazine, ammunition, and what appeared to be drugs in the car, according to the report.

District court Judge Michael Patten sets bail at $7,500.

Then on March 27, Williams had a bail hearing in Essex County Superior Court in Salem. During that hearing, Williams' attorney asked Judge Timothy Feeley to reduce bail to $2,000.

"The court does not consider to defend any alleged dangerousness of the defendant in setting the amount of bail," Feeley said. "I find the amount of bail affordable by the defendant, which is $2,000, is not sufficient to reasonably assure his risk of non-appearance."

Judge Feeley set bail at $5,000, citing his concern that Williams lives three hours away in another state.

"His lack of ties to this commonwealth is the largest factor in this court's mind," Feeley said.

After the death of Yarmouth police Sgt. Sean Gannon two weeks ago, a group of state legislators representing Cape Cod penned a letter demanding a hearing to identify "lapses in the criminal justice system."

Thomas Latanowich, the man accused of murdering Gannon, had a history of violence, including drug trafficking and gun charges.

The man who shot Auburn Officer Ron Tarentino nearly two years ago, Jorge Zambrano, had appeared before Judge Andrew Mandell.

Mandell went back and forth on whether to grant Zambrano bail, citing his history of fighting with police.

"This is troubling. Authority means nothing to him," Mandell said in court. "In fact, it's the opposite."

Within months, Zambrano killed Tarentino.

Auburn Police Chief Andrew Sluckis Jr. is calling for change.

"There needs to be some sort of judicial review board process ... where judges need to be evaluated," he said.

Williams was facing a two-and-a-half-year mandatory minimum sentence for the large-capacity firearm charge.

A new criminal justice law now takes into consideration what a suspect can afford to pay for bail.

The Massachusetts District Attorneys Association has filed legislation every year for nearly a decade to reform the bail review process. Their proposal would require a Superior Court judge to find an error in law or fact before reducing the bail.

It has never passed.

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