BOSTON (Reuters) - A tough new Massachusetts crime bill that imposes a "three strikes" rule on violent repeat offenders was signed into law on Thursday.
Democratic Governor Deval Patrick signed the legislation, known as Melissa's Bill, in a private ceremony, a spokeswoman said.
The law was named for Melissa Gosule, a young Massachusetts teacher who was kidnapped, raped and murdered in 1999 by a repeat violent criminal offender out on parole.
Momentum for passing the bill increased after John Maguire, a veteran police officer in Woburn was killed by a repeat offender in 2010 who was on parole after being sentenced to three life terms.
The law makes criminals who have been convicted three times of specific violent crimes ineligible for parole, forcing them to serve a full sentence, and enforces completion of previous sentences consecutive to completion of the latest sentence.
Massachusetts joins 26 other states that have some form of habitual-offender laws.
The law also reforms sentencing for non-violent drug offenders, which Patrick said would allow nearly 600 prisoners to be paroled and save the state millions of dollars.
The crime bill has drawn criticism because the three-strikes requirement does not include judicial discretion.
The legislature this week rejected a so-called safety valve amendment that would have provided more leeway for judges in sentencing habitual offenders.
"I still believe there is a necessary role for judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing, and many of the advocates of this bill have pledged to support that next year," Patrick said.
"I understand the concerns of those who worry we have taken judgment out of the justice system, and the pain and frustration of the families of victims of violent crime."
Gosule, then a 27-year-old substitute teacher, was murdered by Michael Gentile, a criminal previously released after serving only two years in jail for 27 prior felonies.
Les Gosule, Melissa's father, had pushed for 13 years for passage of the law.
"Winston Churchill said that government's first duty is to protect the physical safety of its citizens. Melissa's Law will begin to save lives, and save innocent people from injury, as soon as it's signed," Gosule said in a statement.
(Reporting by Joseph O'Leary; editing by Ros Krasny and Prudence Crowther)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2012. Check for restrictions at: http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp