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Willie Horton Case

NCJ Number
Date Published
9 pages
This full text of a television panel discussion of the Willie Horton case -- in which a man was convicted of first-degree murder in Massachusetts, sentenced to life in prison without parole, and then committed rape and assault in Maryland after escaping from a weekend furlough -considers the facts of the case, the Massachusetts furlough policy under Governor Michael Dukakis, and the implications of the Willie Horton case for the 1988 presidential campaign involving George Bush and Michael Dukakis.
Under a 1972 law passed through the leadership of a Republican governor and supported by present governor Michael Dukakis, a first-degree murderer, after serving an average of 10 years in prison, is eligible for 18 to 48 hours of unguarded furloughs. Under this policy, Willie Horton received nine furloughs; and on his tenth, he escaped to Maryland, where he tortured a husband and wife in their home, and twice raped the wife. Although the panelists disagree about the wisdom of the Massachusetts furlough policy itself, all agree that the administrative decision to furlough Willie Horton was a serious mistake given the nature of his offense and his prison disciplinary record. Representatives of the Bush and Dukakis presidential campaigns debate the legitimacy of using this particular case as an example of Dukakis' attitude toward offenders and his record on crime.