A View from the Hill
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 28, 1999
CONTACT: Tom Nolan (617) 722-2240
IT'S TIME TO SEND THE MESSAGE THAT
CRIME REALLY DOESN'T "PAY"
Massachusetts will never forget the murder trial that took place a
little over a year and a half ago involving a British au pair and an
eight-month old child. It was a story that gained not only national
attention, but wide international coverage as well. In 1997, little
Matthew Eappen died at the hands of his au pair, Louise Woodward. As most
of us may recall, the "British Nanny" was initially convicted of
second-degree murder by a jury of her peers, but with the world watching
closely, received a reduced sentence of manslaughter from the court. This
devastating turn of events for the Eappen family made headlines throughout
the country as the "Nanny" headed back to England where the cameras and
reporters were anxiously awaiting her arrival.
The Eappen family's suffering and anguish from losing their infant son
was exacerbated by the fact that Louise had become a folk hero of sorts for
her conduct and could possibly profit handsomely from this tragedy. The
story of the death of their innocent child and her involvement in that
tragedy had the potential to make Louise a wealthy celebrity. In order to
prevent Woodward from benefiting from her notoriety, as well as
trivializing their son's death, the Eappens filed a civil suit for wrongful
death. Fortunately, as a result of the lawsuit, Woodward agreed to donate
to charity any money she might receive from selling her story.
While the Eappens went to court to take preventative measures against
Woodward, we on the Hill must guarantee that in the future, convicts will
be prohibited from making money for recounting their crimes to the media.
To achieve this goal, I filed a bill this session that seeks to prevent
convicted offenders, like Woodward, from reaping economic gain for the
publication of their criminal conduct.
H.3677 An Act Relative to the Forfeiture of Profits From Crime, would
prevent convicted defendants from entering lucrative contracts or engaging
in profit generating activities relating to the publication of facts or
circumstances surrounding the crimes for which they were convicted. This
bill essentially codifies the concepts that were articulated in a 1995
Supreme Judicial Court decision upholding a court's authority to prohibit
convicted defendants from profiting from the publication of facts
underlying the crimes committed. That case involved Kathleen Powers, the
notorious early 1970's "cop killer". As a condition of her sentence, the
trial court expressly prohibited her from selling her story for economic
gain. Although Powers claimed this was an infringement of her First
Amendment rights, the SJC disagreed. Since convicted persons do not enjoy
the same protections as free individuals, the high Court found these
post-conviction restrictions permissible.
To be sure, the notion of anti-profit laws is not new to the
Commonwealth. In fact, up until 1993, Massachusetts had such laws on its
books. Yet, following a U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down a
similar New York statute, those laws were repealed. Since then, there has
been much debate as to how to work around that decision to thwart criminals
from selling their stories. H.3677 achieves that goal in a
constitutionally permissible manner.
Historically, anti-profit initiatives have been challenged on First
Amendment grounds. However, both federal and state case law, including the
Powers decision, clarifies that convicted persons relinquish some of their
constitutional protections-- including First Amendment rights. H.3677 is
predicated upon this reasoning and, therefore, does not offend
In short, the legislation would permit District Attorneys to request
that a defendant be prohibited from selling their story as a condition of
probation, and to seek the forfeiture of any money received by selling
their story prior to conviction. Any forfeited money would be deposited
into the Victim's Compensation Fund and made available to satisfy any
judgment rendered in favor of the victims of the crimes for which the
defendant was convicted.
We are shocked by the grotesque acts of notorious convicts such as
Eddie O'Brien, John Secari, Charles Jaynes and Edward Donahue, to name only
a few. That such persons could stand to receive windfalls from their
atrocious acts is an insult to the lives and memories of the victims
destroyed by their crimes. By reinstating legislation to prevent criminals
from gaining financially for their heinous crimes, we will send the clear
message that crime does not pay.
I am fully aware that this legislation will never erase the pain
endured by the Eappen family and other victims, nor will it undo the
tragedies that have occurred. However, it may provide some comfort to
those families who will be guaranteed that the memories of their child,
relative or friend will not be marred by the greed of a convict and the
commercialization of their traumatizing experiences. That peace of mind is
a promise that we owe not only to our victims and their families, but to
our own consciences.