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Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I can't think of a title for this one.

This is an editorial from today's Salem (Mass.) News. I think summary execution by being kicked to death is too light a punishment for someone who would drive a car with a roach in it.


"Stop, children, what's that sound; everybody look what's going down."

-- "For What It's Worth," Buffalo Springfield

We have recently been inundated by a flock of public officials trying to associate themselves with the high-profile Amy Bishop triple-homicide case because it opened up the possibility that Bishop was responsible for another homicide -- that of her own brother in 1986. This case has elements of everything -- associations with Harvard, Hollywood, money and connections. The current investigation aims to assure us that no homicide will ever fall through the cracks again in Massachusetts.

If the governor, legislators and federal investigators are telling us the truth about wanting to seal up those cracks, I'd like to point out a Grand Canyon-sized one right here in Essex County. It concerns Ashleigh (15 years old), Dakota (10) and Rayne-Marie (13 months) and their mother, the widowed Margaret Howe.

Their father, Kenneth R. Howe, was brutally beaten to death on Thanksgiving Eve 2009 at what is known as a "sobriety checkpoint" in North Andover. Many Americans feel these checkpoints are violations of their rights. This one cost Howe his life.

Sobriety checkpoints are not legal in many states. In Massachusetts, they need something called a "conditions precedent" to justify their use. We don't know if that criterion was met in this case. Nevertheless, the medical examiner has ruled Howe's death a homicide.

Witnesses have said they saw 10 to 20 police officers stomping and kicking a man who was lying on the ground at the side of the road. One said there was no aggression on Howe's part to instigate a beating; he next saw Howe, inanimate, being shoved into a state trooper's cruiser.

According to the state police, Howe was a passenger in the vehicle that was pulled over and was in possession of a marijuana cigarette. We are waiting for the results of a DNA test on the alleged joint to prove that it was Howe's.

To put this in perspective, if I and nine of my friends had brutally beaten a state trooper by the side of the road on Thanksgiving Eve, do you think District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett would have seated a grand jury by now? Do you think everybody would know who the people who administered the brutal beating are, and everything about them?

But Blodgett's reaction to date reminds me of a frightened deer in somebody's headlights. He's not doing his job.

Margaret Howe's attorney, Frances King, two months ago requested new U.S. Attorney Carmin Ortiz to take over the investigation because "the state police can't investigate the state police." Never has an incident been more compelling for federal intervention. Howe was denied his right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

To date, there have been three different published versions of where and when Howe died. The one thing we do know is that he was beaten to death and there has been no grand jury, state or federal, seated. Meanwhile, the same officers are still driving around with their firearms.

Members of Howe's family -- the three young girls and their mother -- are suffering emotionally, psychologically and financially. Where is the justice for the nonfamous, nonwealthy and nonconnected? At this point, four months out, it is not being provided by either the state or the federal governments.

The famous Buffalo Springfield song "For What It's Worth" contains another line that may be relevant: "There's a man with a gun over there, telling me I've got to beware."

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