Middlesex district attorney's year began with murder

Norman Miller

Gerry Leone did not have a lot of time to settle into his seat in his new office when he took the reins as the new Middlesex district attorney last year.

Just two weeks after he took office on Jan. 4, 2007, 15-year-old James Alenson was stabbed to death in Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School. John Odgren, 17, of Princeton and a student at the school, was arrested.

Since then, it has been a busy first year for Leone, of Holliston, who was a prosecutor under then-Middlesex District Attorney Tom Reilly in the 1990s.

"It's been a very successful year on a lot of fronts," he said on Friday, his first anniversary. "Things have been one hand hectic, but the other hand, it's gone very well."

It was a successful year on the prosecution side. The district attorney's office convicted 16 of 16 murder defendants in 2007. Working with Massachusetts State Police assigned to his office, 15 of 18 murders in Middlesex County were solved in 2007.

Leone also said the office launched several new initiatives in 2007 that he was proud of, including a new "unsolved" homicide system, which looks at older murder cases and to see if new technology can be used to find new clues.

Another initiative was a greater look at growing school violence. Almost once a week, Leone would take part in a "Community Based Justice" meeting in a different school. As part of that, assistant district attorneys in district courts work with schools on how to prevent youthful offenders from going to jail.

"Having been here in the 1990s, I ran the Community Based Justice program," said Leone. "It was natural for me to take a look at the program, how to utilize it and getting it to the next level."

Fighting computer crimes, or so-called cyber crimes, was also a top priority in 2007, and will continue to be, he said.

"The Cyber Enforcement program works on two fronts training and educating parents and professionals about cyber issues, and the other is putting together a group of prosecutors and investigators who will investigate and prosecute cyber cases," the DA said.

The most important cyber crimes to be investigated are those of child sex predators who have taken their stalking from the playgrounds and schools to the realm of the World Wide Web.

"That's another area where predators have gone," said Leone. "You have to be in that game if you want to prosecute these type of cases. The attorneys have to be more trained in this area. You have to keep up with the Joneses."

Even before officially being sworn in, Leone created a Diversity Committee to better recruit prosecutors and other staff members of different races and colors to better reflect the community it serves, he said.

He also created a Domestic Violence Unit, which combines all aspects of domestic violence, including child abuse and elder abuse, into one unit.

"We've come a long way, but the sad reality is child abuse and domestic violence are two areas that we are inundated with," said Leone. "Those are the most vulnerable victims, children and victims of domestic violence."

In 2008, Leone said he hopes to continue working on his Shaken Baby Initiative, which is a partnership with hospitals. He said it will help train hospital workers how to identify abuse.

It will also work with young parents who have never heard of SBS.

"Parents do not appreciate the dangers that are involved in violent shaking," he said. "There's an ignorance factor. We continue to see too many cases of shaking, which either ends in the death of the child or lifelong neurological problems for the child."

This year will continue to be busy, with several high profile cases on the horizon. Neil Entwistle's murder trial is expected to bring the kind of media attention from both the United States and England as the Louise Woodward trial did in 1997. Leone was one of the prosecutors on that case.

Entwistle, who is from England, is alleged to have killed his wife and daughter on Jan. 20, 2006. His trial is scheduled to begin in March.

Leone said his office is ready for the media onslaught.

"Public communication is very important, be it either print or television," he said. "It means more people are going to see it, and we have to build a solid prosecution. The attention that it has means we have to be better at what we have to do. I'm confident about it."

Norman Miller can be reached at 508-626-3823 or at