Massachusetts Lawmaker's Pledge to 'Rip Apart' Child Rape Victims at Trial Draws Fury
Thursday, June 26, 2008
A Massachusetts politician and defense attorney has touched off a firestorm with his shocking public vow to torment and "rip apart" child rape victims who take the witness stand if the state legislature passed stiff mandatory sentences for child sex offenders.
Rep. James Fagan, a Democrat, made the comments during debate last month on the state House floor.
"I'm gonna rip them apart," Fagan said of young victims during his testimony on the bill. "I'm going to make sure that the rest of their life is ruined, that when they’re 8 years old, they throw up; when they’re 12 years old, they won’t sleep; when they’re 19 years old, they’ll have nightmares and they’ll never have a relationship with anybody.”
Fagan said as a defense attorney it would be his duty to do that in order to keep his clients free from a "mandatory sentence of those draconian proportions."
Fagan did not respond to repeated requests for comment from FOXNews.com.
His remarks drew the ire of local activists as well as colleagues.
“I appreciate that he’s a defense attorney, and felt he had a point to make, but I think it was unnecessary,” said Jones, who supported an original version of the bill. “It was excessive.”
The father of the Florida girl for whom Jessica's Law is named also blasted Fagan after hearing the comments.
Mark Lunsford, whose 9-year-old daughter was abducted and buried alive in a trash bag by a sex offender in 2005, told the Boston Herald on Tuesday that Fagan should take the rights of victimized children seriously.
“Why doesn’t he figure out a way to defend that child and put these kind of people away instead of trying to figure ways for defense attorneys to get around Jessica’s Law?” Lunsford told the paper. “These are very serious crimes that nobody wants to take serious. What about the rights of these children?”
The bill that he opposed eventually passed the House and set mandatory minimum sentences of between 10 and 15 years for a set of different offenses against children ranging from assault to sexual crimes. A version is still pending in the state Senate.
From a legal perspective, law professor Phyllis Goldfarb said Fagan was probably expressing a basic courtroom truth – that it is a defense attorney’s job to test the prosecution’s case, especially when mandatory penalties are on the line.
“It is fundamentally true … if the proof is coming almost exclusively through a child witness you may have to find a way to test it. That’s the attorney-client obligation there,” Goldfarb told FOXNews.com.
Goldfarb, who used to direct the Criminal Justice Clinic at Boston College Law School, said Fagan used some over-the-top language, but that he probably didn't relish the idea of cross-examining a child. She said it's just his job.
“You do have to challenge a witness,” she said. “Some people find ways of doing that that are loyal to their role as defense attorneys -- testing the proof (in ways) that aren’t abusive to a witness, but it's very hard.
“And I think being put in that hard position is what he seems to be railing against here, using language that’s probably a little bit hyperbolic.”
Lunsford will be in Massachusetts on Wednesday to push the state Senate to include mandatory prison time in the state's final version of Jessica's Law, according to the Herald.
Reader Information: State Rep. James Fagan is a Democrat representing the Third Bristol District, which includes the city of Taunton. Fagan, a 1973 graduate of Suffolk Law School, has been representing the district since 1993, and serves as chair of the House ethics committee. He can be reached by e-mailing or calling:
State House: 617-722-2040
District office: 508-824-7000