Monday, March 03, 2014

Fire Lawlor

  
On Friday, February 28, Frankie “The Razor” Resto was sentenced by Superior Court Judge Patrick Clifford to 53 years in prison for having murdered Abraham Ghazal.

Mr. Resto had earlier rejected a plea arrangement, which must have caused Governor Dannel Malloy’s prison czar, Michael Lawlor, a moment of worry. Trials are unpredictable public presentations. One never knows what skeleton from what closet might pop out at you in the public arena.

All the possible skeletons disappeared when Mr. Resto and his lawyer, Glenn Conway, agreed to palaver with the state and arrive at a plea arrangement satisfactory to both.


Mr. Conway, it must be admitted, did not have a very strong hand before he stepped into the negotiating parlor. Mr. Resto’s murder of Mr. Ghazal had been recorded, and the surveillance tape plainly showed Mr. Resto pulling a handgun – likely not purchased by the murderer at one of the state’s gun stores – receiving cash register money from Mr. Ghazal, raising the assault weapon to Mr. Ghazal’s chest, pulling the trigger and fatally shooting his victim in the heart. On the other hand, capital punishment had been removed as a negotiating point by a Democrat dominated General Assembly that, at the urging of Mr. Lawlor and then state Senator Andrew McDonald, at the time co-chairs of the Judiciary Committee, abolished the sentence for capital felonies. A cowardly and unconstitutional exception for prisoners awaiting execution on death row was implanted in the death penalty abolition bill. This writer and other disinterested parties believe that the exception is unconstitutional, and the constitutional question no doubt will be decided by Connecticut’s Supreme Court. Mr. McDonald currently sits on the high court, having been appointed to the position by Mr. Malloy. 

When Mr. Resto claimed after sentence had been passed on him that he had pulled the trigger accidentally, no one in the courtroom, save possibly his lawyer, believed him.  Mr. Resto’s weapon, a 40 caliber handgun not among the assault weapons banned under a new Connecticut law, was loaded with hollow point bullets to effect maximum damage. Governor Malloy and Connecticut’s two U.S. Senators, Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, might be interested in knowing that a charge against Mr. Resto for criminal possession of a fire arm, which might have added five years to his sentence, was dropped because it was not part of the plea agreement.

Mr. Resto said, "I feel for the family, you know what I mean? It was an accident… I'm willing to deal with whatever comes ... the Almighty knows it was an accident. Everyone else is basically irrelevant. All that killer stuff...”

Mr. Conway said, according to one news report “that his client was a troubled person who had a difficult upbringing and made a few suicide attempts.”

The survivors of Mr. Resto’s “accident” were permitted to say a few words. Reading the sentiments of her mother, Mervat Ghazal, the daughter of Abraham Ghazal, said, "We have received a death sentence of our own. Each one of us has died in a small way. ... We ask the court to remember this sentence we have suffered as you consider the sentence you will impose."

In covering Mr. Resto’s sentencing, some papers noted that Mr. Lawor’s brainchild, the Earned Risk Reduction Credits program, had awarded Mr. Resto, a violent criminal who was incorrigible while in prison, early release credits. Among the sharpest critics of Mr. Lawlor’s ill-conceived, poorly executed program were his fellow legislators in the General Assembly.

In remarks to the judge, Mr. Conway took a shot at the people who had been taking shots at Mr. Lawlor: “Early release isn't the issue here," Conway said. "Mr. Resto did 90 percent of the sentence he was serving. The issue in this case was substance abuse."

Mr. Conway’s “90 percent” remark is taken directly from Mr. Lawlor’s many Jesuitical evasions. The truth, as usual, is far more complex. As demonstrated below in his interrogatory with then state Senator Len Suzio and others, Mr. Resto, under the pre-Lawlor regime, would have been eligible for parole after serving 85% of his original sentence, or about 63.75 months. After RREC, Mr. Resto was eligible for parole after serving 85% of his original sentence -- reduced by 199 days of RREC's. This reduced the time before eligible for parole to 58.14 months, or about 5 1/2 months sooner than under the old law.

Mr. Resto was released April 14, 2012 or just 3 days short of 7 months prior to his original sentence term of November 11, 2012, having served about 68 months of his original sentence.

But Mr. Lawlor’s misleading and false exculpation, that Mr. Resto would have served more time were it not for RREC, is not exculpatory at all, even if it were true – because Mr. Resto should not have been released early under any circumstances, under any program. He was a murder waiting to murder, and everyone, including the guards who knew him well, could have told Mr. Lawlor, by this time fully committed to his seriously defective program, that he should not have been released early under any circumstances.

It is extremely important to note that Mr. Resto WAS NOT PAROLED.  Owing to a glitch, his February parole had been delayed; Mr. Resto’s mother, who was to be his parole sponsor, did not have a Connecticut driver’s license. Sponsorship was never resolved, and the Department of Correction was compelled to release Mr. Resto after 199 RREC days had been removed from his sentence. The RREC had reduced Mr. Resto’s TERM OF SENTENCE, not just his eligibility for parole.

Mr. Resto was released on probation for “time served.”  The standard for re-incarceration is different depending upon a prisoner’s terms of release: A return on probation requires an arrest warrant; a prisoner who violates parole may be returned immediately to prison without a warrant.

As noted by his probation officer and confirmed by lab tests, Mr. Resto HAD violated parole terms. But prison officials could only detain Mr. Lawlor after having issued an arrest warrant. If Mr. Resto had been released on parole rather than “for time served,” he could have been detained without an arrest warrant. Mr. Resto’s arrest affidavit bears the date June 28, 2012 – THE DAY AFTER MR. RESTO MURDERED MR. GHAZAL.

Pressed by former State Senator Len Suzio in an interview, “Mr. Lawlor agreed that the DOC had to release prisoner Resto and could not detain him any longer even though his sponsor had not been confirmed because Resto had served his time AS ADJUSTED BY THE RREC’S APPLIED TO HIS ORIGINAL SENTENCE.” (See minutes of the interview below).

The very title of Mr. Lawlor’s program – the “Risk Reduction EARNED Credits” program – implies that prisoners must do something to EARN their early release credits. Yet we know that the credits were awarded retroactively to hundreds of convicted criminals who passively received them without passing through any of the therapeutic hoops held out to them by Mr. Lawlor’s program. Mr. Resto was among the hundreds of prisoners given early release credits retroactively. The credits given to Mr. Resto were UNEARNED, did not reduce HIS recidivism rate and led to an early release of a violent prisoner who murdered Mr. Ghazal.

The issue is whether anyone in the Malloy administration will accept responsibility for a chain of events – in which Mr. Lawlor figured prominently – that resulted in the murder of Mr. Ghazal by a violent prisoner who never should have been awarded a single get out of jail early credit.

Mr. Lawlor consistently has refused to supply to members of the General Assembly he left behind after he was elevated by Mr. Malloy to his present position raw data in his possession concerning the recidivism rates of those prisoners he has released early. At the same time, he has accepted credit for a drop in crime rates in Connecticut that parallels almost exactly a national drop in crime rates. Republican state legislators have implored Mr. Lawlor to restrict the parceling out of get-out-of-jail- early benefices only to non-violent incarcerated criminals – to no avail. He hands his credits out impartially to rapists and child molesters. His poorly designed program is as dangerous to the public as the San Andreas Fault. For these and other reasons, he should be fired.
    
Impact Statement of Sudquieh Ghazal with respect to the murder of Ibrahim Ghazal

I Sudqieh Ghazal am writing this impact statement to explain to the Court the devastating impact of the murder of my beloved husband Ibrahim Ghazal on my children and I.

Ibrahim and I were happily married for 47 years. Together we raised 6 children. We have been a happy and close knit family. My husband ever since he was young wanted to come to America and make a life for his family. I can remember many occasions in Jordan when my husband expressed his desire to come to America to our children.  He always spoke of America as a land where everyone has the opportunity to succeed and prosper. Finally Ibrahim realized his dream when we arrived in America in 1989. We all were excited to be in America!

For many years Ibrahim worked toward his dream of owning his own family business. He worked long and hard to save money to buy a business. Eventually, after more than 23 years we saved enough money to buy a convenience store business on East Main Street in Meriden. Ibrahim was so excited! He could hardly stop talking about his new business. The day was June 6, 2012. The very first thing Ibrahim did was to plant many American flags all around the gas station. He was proud to be an American and he wanted everyone to know that he had made it in America!

Because my son Shadi was going to be married on June 10, my children and I went back to Jordan for the wedding. However, I could not convince Ibrahim to come because he was concerned about his new store. He felt he had to stay here in America to make certain his new business would continue. Like most small business owners Ibrahim worked long hours, 14 to 15 hours a day to make certain his business would survive and grow. He even worked past midnight keeping his store open. It did not matter that he was 70 years old. He was determined to do what he had to do to make the family business a success. He always said that if you worked hard in America you will succeed.

Sadly his hard work ethic probably cost my husband his life.

My daughter Tharwat had stayed with my husband here in the United States. In the early hours of June 27, 2012, about 1:30 am she received the terrible news that her father had been robbed and shot. She rushed to the gas station to see her father and was told by the police that it was too late, her father was dead.  Tharwat passed out with shock and grief. When she came to consciousness she realized she had to call us in Jordan. She was able to reach my son Tamer and told him the terrible news. He was driving his car at the time and the shock of the news was so much that he slammed on his brakes and was hit by the car following him. Tamer realized he had to be the one to tell me about his father’s murder. Knowing the terrible shock it would be to me Tamer told me that he needed to go to the hospital with me. I sensed something was badly wrong. Tamer’s face was ghostly white and he was shaking as we drove to the hospital. When we arrived he sat me down and told me the news. I don’t remember what happened next. My son told me they administered sedatives to calm me down.

The news was shocking and devastating. My husband of more than 40 years was violently ripped away from me in an instant – and I was 9,000 miles away! I could not be at his side. I could not be with him in the end. There are no words to describe the grief and anguish that I feel. And I know my children all feel a similar grief for the cold blooded murder of their beloved father. Even today, some of us are receiving counseling. We all have periodic bouts of depression thinking not only about the loss of our father but the violent and senseless way in which he died alone without any of us even being nearby.

The emotional and psychological suffering of all of us, my 6 children and I cannot be expressed in words. We have received a death sentence of our own. Each one of us has died in a small way. The loss of our husband and father will be a lifetime loss for each one of us. We ask the Court remember this sentence we have suffered as you consider the sentence you will impose on the criminal who murdered my husband and the father of our 6 children.

Beyond the emotional and psychological suffering my family also has suffered devastating financial loss too. We have lost belongings (more than $30,000) in our house in Jordan and we have lost the business my husband had worked so long to attain. Ibrahim had taken our life savings of more than $100,000 and invested it in his new business. Because of his trusting nature he took with him a business partner but did not have a written agreement. Sadly his partner claimed the business lost most of my husband’s investment and the partner offered us only $30,000 to settle my husband’s investment. The store was our family’s main source of income. Without that income we have become financially desperate. Each one of my children has taken whatever job they can get to help the family survive. Compounding our financial problems is that the partner has not paid us even the vastly reduced settlement of my husband’s investment.

Today the Court will consider the sentence for prisoner # 283901 (who does not deserve the respect of a name) who has been entered a plea to the murder of my husband and the father of my children. Unfortunately, prisoner # 283901 has not admitted his guilt for this crime. While we are gratified that the Court has accepted the plea of prisoner # 283901  for the crimes of armed robbery and cold blooded murder we, the family, are denied "closure" on this tragedy. Part of the sense of justice experienced by victims of crime and their families is the acknowledgement by the criminal of their culpability. The acknowledgement of "guilt" for criminal acts by the criminal removes any doubt of responsibility. It also shows that the criminal recognizes the wrong he has done. My family knows what prisoner # 283901   did was wrong. Everyone in our community knows what he did was terribly wrong. But does prisoner # 283901   know what he did was wrong? The Court and society condemns the brutal murder of an innocent victim. But complete justice is denied when the guilty does not acknowledge and condemn their own crimes.

It is difficult to explain, but I am certain others whose loved ones have been brutally murdered know what I am talking about. An essential part of justice is an unambiguous admission of the truth. There can be no complete justice without complete truth. This involves a complete admission of the facts. It also involves a humble acknowledgement of the wrongness of the act by the perpetrator of the crime. In the situation at hand, prisoner prisoner # 283901   has not admitted his culpability. He only has acknowledged that the evidence against him is overwhelming.

Finally, no one can reform their lives without confronting their wrongdoing. If prisoner # 283901  has not admitted that he murdered my husband and the father of my children how can there be any hope that he will reform his life? As long as prisoner # 283901  does not admit his guilt he must be considered as unreformed and a danger to society.

We urge the Court to assure that justice is served and the public protected. All 7 of us, my children and me are condemned to serve a lifetime of suffering that will end only with our deaths. Prisoner # 283901 should be sentenced to a lifetime in prison without the possibility of another Early Release, parole or probation. Any sentence short of that is not just. If prisoner # 283901 is released after serving only 40 years he will be only slightly older than my husband when prisoner # 283901 brutally murdered him in cold blood. Please do not authorize a sentence that will be an unjust sentence in light of this horrendous and senseless crime. Please do not allow an unrepentant criminal mercy when he cannot even admit his own guilt. Please do not allow the potential for prisoner # 283901 to ever be released from prison free to menace society again. We will be in the prison of our sorrow for the remainder of our entire lives, each one of us prisoner # 283901 should be put in prison for the rest of his entire life.

Finally, to our shock, yesterday we found out that prisoner # 283901  has entered a plea for only 2 of the 4 serious crimes with which he was charged. What is the situation with respect to the other serious crimes? Why were we not told this by the state and only found out yesterday? These slights in miscommunication only serve to undermine our faith in the system and re-victimize my family.

Sudqieh Ghazal

February 28, 2014

August 27, 2012, meeting with Mike Lawlor undersecretary for criminal justice policy and Ivan Kuzyk of the CT DOC and Senator Len Suzio and Republican Senate Staff lawyer Mike Cronin and Adam Liegeot. The meeting convened at 10:30 am and ended at 12:55 pm.

The meeting began by focusing on the facts surrounding inmate Frankie Resto. Senator Suzio asked Mr. Lawlor if he agreed with the following facts to which Mr. Lawlor indicated consent:


  1. Resto was sentenced to 13 years in prison suspended after 75 months.
  1. Under the law prior to July 2011, Resto would have been eligible for parole after serving 85% of his original sentence, or about 63.75 months.
  1. Under the RREC program Resto was eligible for parole after serving 85% of his original sentence reduced by 199 days of RREC's. This reduced the time before eligible for parole to 58.14 months, or about 5 1/2 months sooner than under the old law.
  1. Resto was released April 14, 2012 or just 3 days short of 7 months prior to his original sentence term of November 11, 2012 (having served about 68 months of his original sentence).
  1. Resto's release was approved by the Parole Board and scheduled for February. However, the parole was delayed because Resto's mother, who was to be his sponsor, did not have a Connecticut drivers license. Before sponsorship could be resolved the DOC was compelled to release Resto as the he reached the full term of his pre-suspension sentence when 199 days of RREC's were applied to his 75 month sentence. This made him eligible for release "for time served" beyond which he could not be held. (THIS IS A SIGNIFICANT CONSEQUENCE OF THE IMPACT OF THE RREC'S REDUCING THE TERM OF SENTENCE NOT JUST ELIGIBILITY FOR PAROLE).
  1. A consequence of the application of the RREC's was that Resto was released for "time served" and his release was on probation, not on parole. This means the standard for reincarcerated is higher because arrest for a probation violation requires an arrest warrant, whereas under parole an inmate can be reincarcerated for violating parole without a warrant.
  1. Mr. Lawlor agreed that the DOC had to release prisoner Resto and could not detain him any longer even though his sponsor had not been confirmed because Resto had served his time as adjusted by the RREC's applied to his original sentence.
  1. Fact #6 is critical in the Resto situation because Resto had violated conditions of his probation (noted by Probation Officer Ewelina Ewa Rembisz on May 30, 2012 and confirmed by lab tests taken at Wheeler Clinic on May 24 and confirmed on June 22) but to be detained an arrest warrant had to be issued. If Resto had been released on parole he could have been detained without an arrest warrant. The affidavit was dated June 28, 2012, the day after the murder of Ibrahim Ghazal.
  1. Although he agreed with the foregoing, Mr. Lawlor continued to emphasize that Resto had served more time than he would have under the previous system arguing that violent prisoners under the old system were sometimes released as early as 65% of time served.
  1. When Senator Suzio pointed out that Resto had been denied parole under the old system and parole was not awarded until February 2012 under the new system Mr. Lawlor acknowledged those facts. Senator Suzio emphasized that while it may have been possible for Resto to have been released under the old system, the facts are that he wasn't released under the old system and in fact, his parole requests were denied under the old system.
  1. Mr. Lawlor also confirmed that the application of the 199 days of RREC's forced the DOC to release Resto before his sponsorship problems could be resolved.
  1. Senator Suzio then asked how Mr. Resto's RREC's were calculated:
  1. Approximately 20 days were earned prospectively under the new program.
  1. The balance, 179 days were retroactive RREC's.
  1. Senator Suzio pointed out that only 60 days could have been earned from July 2010 when the Parole Board denied Resto's request for parole. Mr. Lawlor corrected Senator Suzio and pointed out that a maximum  of 51 days RREC's could be earned per year.
  1. Senator Suzio noted that if only 20 days were earned prospectively and only 51 days retrospectively to the July 2010 Parole Board meeting, then the remaining 128 days had to be earned prior to the July 2010 Parole Board meeting. But at that meeting the Parole Board was extremely critical of Resto's behavior in prison, pointing out that Resto exhibited "inadequate institutional program participation and poor institutional adjustment". Senator Suzio asked Mr. Lawlor how it was possible for inmate Resto to earn so many RREC's (128 days) during a period of time for which the Parole Board was severely critical of his institutional behavior. Mr. Lawlor pointed out that inmate Resto could have received close to 200 days RREC's from the beginning of his incarceration in August 2006 to July 2010.
  1. Senator Suzio then inquired about whether there is a penalty beyond forfeiting RREC's for bad behavior. Mr. Lawlor said there was no subtraction of RREC's for poor behavior during the retrospective time period. Inmates would merely forfeit RREC's they could have accumulated, but they would not be further penalized for bad behavior (this may be described as the "carrot or no carrot" approach rather than the "carrot and stick" approach). So when Frankie Resto set his cell mattress on fire, he would forfeit RREC's for that month but he would not suffer the loss of any previously accumulated RREC's.

The meeting then shifted to a discussion on the new RREC program and how it is being implemented.


  1. There are a number of questions pertaining to the program that were sent to Commissioner Arnone under a FOIA request. Senator Suzio made it clear that he still expects Commissioner Arnone to respond to that request.
  1. Are inmates required to attend classes to earn RREC's? - Mr. Lawlor, "yes", except when an inmate is waiting for a course. Under those circumstances an inmate may earn credit even though he is not attending as long as he is following his Offender Accountability Plan (OAP). Mr. Lawlor went on to explain OAP's and the 3 "Intervention Tiers" employed by the DOC.
  1. Do instructors grade inmates for each class? - Mr. Lawlor, "yes" course content and grades are developed by UConn. But the DOC gets only "pass" or "fail" grades for the purpose of the RREC's
  1. Are courses required to be related to the behavior issues of each prisoner? - Mr. Lawlor, "No. inmates may take courses toward a GED or college degree and earn RREC's." However, Mr. Lawlor further explained inmates must take behavior modification courses mandated within their OAP or they will not receive any RREC's.
  1. Senator Suzio pointed out DOC Spokesperson Brian Garnett's comment in the New London Day that "no new programs have been added" and Mr. Lawlor said that more course offerings are available, but no new courses are available.
  1. Senator Suzio commented that he had received comments from DOC personnel, prisoners and the OVA that contradict some of his statements, particularly with respect to attendance and grading. We also discussed the "History of the Philippines" course the OVA said was credited toward an inmate's RREC's. Mr. Lawlor said college credits would be acceptable, although he thought a course like "World History" would be more likely.
  1. A discussion about recidivism involved Ivan Kuzyk who explained that it is a "complex" topic and recidivism can be calculated on different levels, arrest, conviction, reincarceration, reincarceration with a new sentence, etc. Senator Suzio pointed out that the OVA has calculated a preliminary recidivism rate of between 25% and 30% based on a developing study of the 7,589 inmates released during the first 9 months of the program. The OVA noted that the DOC calculation was based only on those inmates reincarcerated. It does not count many released criminals who have been charged with a crime but released on APT or for other reasons.
  1. Mr. Lawlor said the State is implementing the Ohio Risk Assessment tool and expects it to be fully implemented sometime next year. This is a sophisticated "evidenced based" model that helps to predict prisoner behavior. Senator Suzio asked why the implementation of the RREC program wasn't delayed until the Risk Assessment tool was fully operational. Mr. Lawlor stated that the model was not part of the RREC program. (see Courant editorial re: Antwan Anthony).
  1. Senator Suzio inquired about the application of the retroactive RREC's. Mr. Lawlor responded that prisoners were given credit unless disciplinary problems were in their files. In other words, the credits were awarded based on a passive criterion of avoiding trouble, not necessarily taking behavior modification courses.
  1. Senator Suzio inquired about the rights of victims in plea bargaining sentences and their potential modification by the RREC program. Mr. Lawlor assured Senator Suzio that if any victim objected to the early release of a criminal their objection would not be denied by the Parole Board. Some discussion ensued because Mr. Lawlor originally stated that if the victim had good cause for their objection. When Senator Suzio asked if it were possible for the objections of a victim to be ignored by the Parole Board Mr. Lawlor assured him that the apprehensions of a victim did not have to be corroborated by evidence of threats.
  1. Senator Suzio asked Mr. Lawlor if there has been any change in policy with respect to Violations of Parole (VOP's) since the inception of the RREC program. Mr. Lawlor responded there hasn't been any change in policy.
  1. Mr. Lawlor said the Commissioner's Policy on RREC's is available on the Internet and has been updated and revised several times.
  1. Senator Suzio asked about the Commissioner's discretionary authority to revoke RREC's as granted within the law. Mr. Lawlor said the Commissioner does not have that authority because that would add make the application of the RREC's vague and arbitrary and create constitutional issues.
Senator Suzio expressed reservations about the employment of a mechanical numbers system that removes any human judgment with respect to the prudence of releasing a prison with a history of violent crime.




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