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Justice delayed is justice denied

Sheila Paquette has now traveled from her home in western Massachusetts to Falmouth District Court on Cape Cod three times to testify in an assault trial involving her brother that never seems to start.

Today (Tuesday) was the fourth scheduled trial date in the case against John Saunders, who is charged with assaulting Paquette’s brother, John Burns, an intellectually disabled group home resident, while they were on an outing on the Cape in June 2010.  Saunders, a care worker at Burns’ residence in West Springfield, was subsequently fired from the job.

On Monday afternoon, after Paquette had made the three-hour, one-way journey to Falmouth from her home in Westfield for the sixth time, counting the pre-trial proceedings in the case, she learned there would be yet another postponement.  The trial, which had first been scheduled for early January, was now being rescheduled until July 30. (The previously scheduled trial dates were January 9, March 27, June 4, and today, the 5th.)

“This has become a travesty,” Paquette said this morning as she was on her way back home after yet another fruitless trip to the Cape.  “It’s gotten to the point where I don’t believe anything anybody is telling me about this case.”

Paquette said the victim advocate at Falmouth District Court gave her three different reasons for the latest postponement.  One was that there was only one judge scheduled to be on duty today to handle all of the cases.  The second was that the court was not able to round up a jury for today.  And the third was that one witness for the prosecution and one for the defense indicated they would not be available to appear today.

“What is the excuse going to be next time?” Paquette said.  “Is it possible this trial will never go forward?  Will my brother ever receive justice as every other citizen does?”

Saunders is accused of hitting Burns in the face while toileting him during the June 2010 outing.   Burns suffered two black eyes and other injuries in the alleged assault.  Paquette, who is president of the Advocacy Network, a COFAR member organization, personally filed charges against Saunders in July 2010.

Saunders failed to show up at his first trial date this past January 9.  He was reportedly arrested by police a couple of days after the January trial date and was released after posting bond that had been set by a judge at $1,000. 

In late March, after a judge had postponed the trial for the second time, the reason given for the postponement was that a defense witness had failed to appear.  At that time, Paquette was explicitly assured by the assistant district attorney prosecuting Saunders that the judge would not grant another postponement based on the failure of a witness to appear.  (I know that’s the case because I heard the assistant D.A. say it to Paquette.)

Now, that assurance has gone out the window.  Paquette is also left wondering why the postponements are so lengthy.  “Why did they wait from January until March, and then from March until June, and now from June until the end of July to re-schedule this trial?” Paquette asked.  “Why can’t they schedule it for the next court session each time?

We had those same questions for the District Court and the District Attorney’s Office.  I spoke today to Ed Teague, the clerk magistrate for the Falmouth District Court, who said that while the court schedules jury trials on two days each week, it is not unusual for it to take a month or more to reschedule a trial.

Teague said, in fact, that several trials are often scheduled for the same day in the court, and that there are only enough jurors to hold one of those trials per day.  Another trial was ongoing today, he said, and for some reason took precedence over the trial scheduled for Saunders.  The same thing may well happen on July 30, he acknowledged.

Teague said I should ask Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe’s Falmouth Office for the specific reasons for the continual postponements of the Saunders case.  However, when I called the D.A.’s office, I was told no one there would speak to me about it.

  1. Ed
    June 7, 2012 at 4:35 pm

    The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees defendants the “Right to a Fair and Speedy Trial.” What about the rights of the victim and the victim’s family? This incident occurred two years ago. John Burns, a mentally handicapped man, was assaulted and seriously injured. The person charged with that assault, John Saunders, was supposed to be the one caring for him.

    The Advocacy Network Board of Directors last night heard a report from our President, Sheila Paquette, whose brother John Burns returned from a trip to Cape Cod—now a full two years ago—suffering injuries incurred while he was in the care of John Saunders, then an employee of The Center for Human Development, an agency contracted by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services.

    John Saunders, appropriately, has been fired from that job. Sheila Paquette, her brother’s guardian, has taken the initiative to bring criminal charges against Saunders. In order to do so, she has dealt with a myriad of agencies in her quest for justice, including:

    • the West Springfield Police Department
    • the Falmouth Police Department
    • the Massachusetts State Police
    • the Center for Human Development
    • the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services
    • the Massachusetts Disabled Persons Protection Commission
    • the District Attorney of Cape Cod and the Islands
    • Falmouth District Court.

    Each time she has traveled across the state expecting a trial, there has been none. Why not? Each time some “reason” has been put forth. After four postponements, “reasons” take on the smell of “excuses.” The Board of Advocacy Network asks why is this case lingering without being heard? Is it because the guardian has taken steps beyond the DDS’s usual internal investigation? Is it because the court is overburdened or inept at securing a trial? Is it because someone does not want this case to be heard? Is it because the victim cannot speak for himself? Along with COFAR, the members of Advocacy Network who are also parents and guardians of other vulnerable individuals, need answers. Sheila Paquette and John Saunders need justice. Why is it taking so long?


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