With his lawyer asserting his innocence and suggesting the all-white jury that convicted him was not a “jury of his peers,” incarcerated state Rep. Carlos Henriquez was hauled in handcuffs back to the State House on Thursday as the House Ethics Committee considers disciplinary action against the Dorchester Democrat.
In an unusual spectacle at the capital, Henriquez, 37, arrived wearing a dark suit without a tie and was escorted into the State House and a first floor hearing room by the Middlesex County sheriff’s department, his wrists handcuffed in front of him and connected to a chain wrapped around his waist.
Henriquez was convicted last week on two assault and battery charges stemming from a domestic violence incident last summer involving his former girlfriend. He was found not guilty on three other charges, and Judge Michele Hogan immediately sentenced him to two-and-a-half years in jail, with six months to serve.
The jury found Henriquez had attacked Katherine Gonzalves in a car parked down the street from her mother's house around 3 a.m. on July 8, 2012. Gonzalves testified that Henriquez became angry once she told him she could not go with him that night, and that he back-handed her across the face, punched her three times in the chest and choked her.
The committee’s deliberations are secret, and several members who attended the hearing with Henriquez on Friday declined to comment on what transpired. Henriquez was at the State House for about an hour, though the meeting may have been shorter after committee members were observed entering the room well after Henriquez arrived. As he was entering and leaving the room, he did not answer questions shouted to him about whether he would resign.
Though the committee's proceedings could lead to the rare step of the House voting to expel one of its members, it’s unclear how quickly the House may move to discipline Henriquez. Stephanie Soriano-Mills, who represented Henriquez at trial, said her client has not yet decided whether he will resign, but maintains his innocence and will appeal the conviction and seek a new trial.
“I think right now he obviously maintains his innocence and the verdict by the jury of two of the five counts doesn’t change the fact of Carlos saying he never did that. I think there was a real lack of credibility on behalf of the named witness, Gonzalves. She gave about six different variations of a story,” Soriano-Mills told reporters after her client, who did not testify during his trial, left the State House.
Though Soriano-Mills declined to discuss what transpired before the Ethics Committee, being led by Vice-Chairman David Nangle, of Lowell, she said she did not feel the House was trying to shame Henriquez into resigning by summoning him to the State House in cuffs, and found the process to be fair so far.
She did, however, say she believed Henriquez’s sentence was overly harsh and influenced by his stature as a lawmaker, and questioned whether the all-white, six-person jury that convicted her client, who is black, was a fair representation of his “peers.”
“The trial process is what it is. I think, you know, we went in knowing that there may not necessarily be a jury of his peers, per se, and we trusted in the system,” Soriano-Mills said.
Asked to elaborate on the comment, Soriano-Mills said, “A jury of your peers generally reflects a vast range of people of different culture, different nationalities, races and that didn’t happen, per se, in this case, however we respect the jury’s decision,” she said.
Soriano-Mills said she couldn’t speculate whether the outcome of the trial would have been different had Henriquez been tried in Suffolk County, but said, “It’s Middlesex County, so I think we had a jury that was very, you know there wasn’t a lot of diversity on the jury.”
The jury consisted of two men and four women, all of whom were white, according to the lawyer.
Soriano-Mills also questioned the sentence that landed Henriquez behind bars, given his history of no prior involvement with the courts.
“I do think that the sentence given was harsh. I think it was done because of his position. I’ve been a prosecutor and defense attorney for many years and I’ve never seen that happen on two misdemeanor counts of assault and battery with no prior record,” she said.
At sentencing, Judge Hogan told Henriquez she was "very concerned that you're not remorseful"
Hogan also ordered Henriquez to complete a batterers program and stay away from Gonzalves.
"You're a successful charismatic young man. You're a pillar in the community. People admire you; they voted for you. They trust you; they trust your judgment. You're a leader in that community and beyond," the judge said before announcing the sentence. "There's much too much domestic violence in this country, in this community. A woman and her word are to be respected. When a woman tells you, she does not want to have sex, that means, 'I do not want to have sex.' And after she says that you don't hit her, you don't punch her, you don't take her on a ride she doesn't want to go on."
House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Gov. Deval Patrick and others have called on Henriquez to resign for the sake of both the House and his constituents. DeLeo has said he considers domestic assault to be “very, very serious.”
In a letter dated Jan. 21, Ward 15 Democratic Committee members Winston Richie and Eileen Boyle said that the 5th Suffolk District and its 40,000 residents are "without representation in the House" and called on DeLeo to "do everything in your power to allow for a Special Election" so the district can have a voice in expected debates over crime, education, housing and jobs.
“Carlos’s focus is on his constituents, on the process and on the ability for the House to get back to work as usual,” Soriano-Mills said, before declining to answer a question about how Henriquez could accomplish that from jail.
Middlesex County Sheriff Peter Koutoujian arrived at the State House in advance of Henriquez to oversee the preparations for the transfer of his inmate. “Just visiting my friends here at the State House,” he said when he arrived.
The hearing room was guarded on all sides by multiple House court officers, and two State Police troopers and someone from the sheriff’s department were stationed outside the room.
Asked if he welcomed the opportunity to defend himself to his colleagues, Soriano-Mills said, “He came, and that was of his own free will.” The House on Thursday passed an order giving Nangle the legal authority to summons Henriquez from jail to appear before the committee.