As a Member of the Governor's Advisory Board of Pardons advocated for the release of innocent men wrongly convicted who would have been executed had the death penalty not been overturned by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Union-News (Springfield, MA)
November 26, 1997
Albano provides vivid rebuttal to death penalty
STAFF UNION-NEWS (Springfield, Mass.)
Bobby Joe Leaster spent 16 years behind bars for a murder he didn't commit. SPRINGFIELD - For MayorMichael J. Albano, Bobby Joe Leaster is living proof the death penalty is a bad idea.
Today, Leaster works with troubled teen-agers in Boston and has a 9-year-old son who is the center of his life.
But for 16 years, he lived a nightmare. His troubles began in September 1970, when he was just 20 and charged with the murder of a shopkeeper in Dorchester, a crime he steadfastly maintained he didn't commit. Leaster was convicted of first-degree murder in 1972 and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Leaster had spent nearly half his life in prison when the Suffolk County district attorney's office reported to Superior Court on Dec. 26, 1986, that a bullet taken from the shooting victim came from a gun used by another man in an armed robbery, and the charges against him were dismissed.
Leaster and his lawyer, Christopher Muse, were at City Hall yesterday at the invitation of the mayor to show why Albano opposes the death penalty.
Albano was a member of the State Advisory Board of Pardons that recommended commutation of Leaster's sentence in 1986. Convinced of Leaster's innocence, he spearheaded the effort to win his release.
"In a politically charged climate, it's very likely that Mr. Leaster would have been given the death sentence and executed," Albano said yesterday. "In the recent debate, proponents of the death penalty have been given center stage.
"Nobody has put
a face to the circumstances in which an innocent person could be executed," Albano said.
Although the Legislature rejected the death penalty by a single vote earlier this month, the issue is expected to return in the next session.
"If we return to the death penalty, innocent people can and will be executed," he said.
Leaster was arrested in Boston's South End an hour after an armed robbery at the Talbot Variety Store in Dorchester, in which Levi Whiteside, the owner, was shot.
Leaster, who had never before been involved with the law, was wearing clothes similar to those of one of the two men who robbed the variety store.
Police handcuffed him and drove him to the parking lot of Boston City Hospital's emergency room, where he was identified by the victim's widow as the man who shot her husband, just moments after Whiteside was pronounced dead.
Leaster came to Boston in 1969 from Reform, Ala., a town of 2,500. He found work as a welder's assistant at the Boston Shipyard and lived with his cousin's family.
Henry Thomas, president of the Springfield Urban League, at yesterday's press conference said executing an innocent man "is a mistake we can't afford to make."
"We can't ask our officials to act in vigilante fashion, no matter how egregious the crime," he said.
@Bobby Joe Leaster, who had been wrongly convicted of first-degree murder, speaks yesterday at a news conference at Springfield City Hall. Standing behind him is Springfield Mayor Michael J. Albano who, in 1986, was a member of the State Advisory Board of Pardons, which recommended that Leaster's sentence be commuted.
PHOTO BY: DAVID MOLNAR(SEE END OF TEXT)
Copyright, 1997, The Republican Company, Springfield, MA. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.