Process that freed Shanley under fire
The state’s attorney general and the district attorney whose office convicted defrocked pedophile priest Paul Shanley yesterday both said they would back a re-examination of the civil commitment process in the wake of Friday’s release of the notorious child rapist.
“These are public safety issues,” Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan told the Herald yesterday. “It’s always good to be looking at what we are doing, how we are doing, can we be doing better? I think that’s always a good thing.”
The Middlesex DA’s office convicted Shanley in 2005 of two counts of rape of a child and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child and recommended he be imprisoned for life.
Shanley, now 86, was sentenced to 12 to 15 years and released Friday morning after serving the minimum term.
Ryan had hired two medical examiners to look at whether Shanley qualified for civil commitment as a danger to the public, but the doctors — who never spoke with Shanley — found that he did not meet the legal criteria.
“We asked to have a life sentence imposed as a way of protecting the public, and since the sentence had been served, we availed ourselves of the next part of the process,” Ryan said yesterday. “In order for us to go forward, we have to rely on the doctors. We retained two doctors, we didn’t get what we needed, we can’t go forward.”
The state-contracted psychologists cited Shanley’s age and health in writing reports suggesting he was unlikely to reoffend.
Shanley was not legally required to meet with them during the process.
He was classified at Level 3 by the state’s sex offender registry board, which found “the risk of reoffense is high.”
Gov. Charlie Baker said last week the issue of Shanley’s release should be examined.
“I know people who were horribly affected and were damaged by Paul Shanley, and I think this is an issue we are going to take a good look at,” Baker said.
Attorney General Maura Healey yesterday joined Baker in backing a push to review the current standards for civil commitment.
“All of these questions are fair to ask and it’s important for people to have a look at the current law,” Healey said. “It deserves a thoughtful consideration.”
Shanley is renting an apartment in the tiny western Massachusetts town of Ware from a fellow Level 3 sex offender, who yesterday insisted the 86-year-old poses no threat to the community.
“They have absolutely nothing to fear from Paul Shanley,” Joel Pentlarge told the Herald. “I have absolutely no reason to believe he would reoffend and it’s a little, frankly, disturbing to me that the media would make such a circus of this.”
Pentlarge, who was convicted in 2000 of rape and abuse of a child, has long been an outspoken advocate for sex offenders.
He said Shanley’s lawyer reached out to him while the ex-priest was still behind bars.
“I’ve been in the same position he’s in, coming out of prison and needing a place to live,” Pentlarge said. “Obviously everyone is much safer if he has a safe place to live rather than living in a homeless shelter or under a bridge.”
Pentlarge said he will be in touch with Shanley on a daily basis and said he is adjusting “remarkably well.”
“For someone who is 86 years old, having spent 12 years in prison, he is doing remarkably well,” he said. “I’ve seen a number of people come out of prison — some of them are very disoriented, but he is not.”
Ware parents expressed concern about Shanley’s release on Friday. His new apartment is across the street from a children’s dance studio.
“If people just met him and talked to him for a minute or two, I think they would be truly convinced there is no danger there,” Pentlarge said. “He is trying to live the rest of his life in a quiet and law-abiding manner.”
Kathleen McKiernan contributed to this report.