Fallon Williams of Brookline read about the August 15th murder of 27-year-old Jennifer Martel, allegedly at the hands of her live-in boyfriend Jared Remy. When she saw the timeline of events, Williams was horrified. That Tuesday—just two days before her murder—Martel reported Remy to the police, accusing him of slamming her head into a mirror. Remy was held for 24 hours and then, when Martel didn't appear in court that Wednesday, was let out on his own recognizance, only to be arrested again, this time covered in blood and accused of her murder, on Thursday.
"Why would they let him go?" she asked herself, "It's not right, this shouldn't have happened. He was clearly a repeat offender. They knew he was dangerous."
The reason was a little-known loophole in the judicial system. Under M.G.L. 276 Sec. 58A, offenders can be released on their own recognizance, without any bail set, within 24 hours of an assault.
Most people reading a story like Jennifer Martel's would have shaken their heads in disgust, maybe left a message of support for Jennifer's family in the comments section, and then moved on to the next news story. But Ms. Williams decided to do something about it. Having signed petitions before on the social justice site Change.org, she's started her own petition to change the law.
The petition includes a memorandum to Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, asking him to "please amend M.G.L. 276 sec. 58A, which currently allows violent offenders to be released on personal recognizance. Repeat offenders have demonstrated an inability to control aggression, which means being released on personal recognizance will most likely only lead to more violence."
"If Remy had been held for 48 hours, he would have had a cool down period," Williams said, "a domestic violence expert could have followed-up with Jennifer to make sure she was aware of her alternatives. Abuse victims often fear 'it doesn't matter what I do, he'll always come for me.' ''
Williams also pointed out that if bail had been set, Remy's parents would have needed to come and pay for his release since he still relied on them for financial support. Remy's father is famed Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy, who has publicly expressed disgust at his son's purported actions.
"If his parents came and paid his bail, he would at least have been under their supervision when he was released," Williams pointed out. Instead, he just walked out of jail with a flimsy warning not to abuse Martel.
"From what I read about Jennifer, there are also many normal, everyday reasons she didn't make it to court [to attend a hearing to get an emergency restraining order against Remy]. She had a job, she was a student, she had a 4-year-old daughter. She might have had a fear of retaliation. She probably still had feelings for [Remy]...he was the father of her child."
Williams has some personal experience with the mentality of the victim—she is a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of someone to whom she was once close. But unlike Jennifer, she was removed from the situation before it escalated. Martel was not so lucky, though reports confirm that Martel's relatives did try to convince her to leave Remy.
"The power an assailant has over a victim isn't just physical, it's mental." Williams said.
So far Williams has gathered 115,686 signatures, far surpassing her original goal of 1,000. But she stressed that new people should continue to sign the document.
"If people keep signing, the better our chances of being heard. I'm calling my local representative Frank Smizik today to discuss next steps." Williams told me.
She pointed out that a change in the law was not only good for Massachusetts but also for other states, since Massachusetts is often seen as a leader in democratic change—for example, instituting statewide mandatory health care and granting the right of gay couples to get married.
After hearing about the petition, Jennifer Martel's mother reached out to Ms. Williams to thank her. Williams stressed that she is not the face of this cause.
"Jennifer is. It's about honoring her and her poor little girl who has to grow up suffering the consequences of this law."
~ Jennifer Campaniolo