The murder of a Yarmouth officer by a career criminal is fueling the death penalty debate in Massachusetts.
Some Republican Massachusetts lawmakers are outraged and calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty following the murder of Yarmouth K9 Police Officer Sean Gannon just over a week ago.
The suspect, Thomas Latanowich, whose rap sheet includes 125 prior charges, is accused of shooting and killing Gannon while he and other officers were attempting to serve an arrest warrant for a probation violation on April 12 in Marston Mills Village of Barnstable.
New reports from WBZ-TV revealed that Gannon, 32, and the suspect had already come face-to-face before that fateful day.
Gannon's K9 partner, Nero, was also shot during the incident. He underwent emergency surgery, and he's recovering well, according to Yarmouth police.
When did Gannon first face the suspect?
In October 2016, Gannon responded to a domestic violence call from a pregnant woman who said her boyfriend strangled her.
“My boyfriend just choked me and slashed the tire on my car,” the woman said in a 911 call played in court.
The woman's boyfriend turned out to be Latanowich.
Gannon gave testimony during the trial in February 2017, but then the victim refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
“You understand that if you don’t testify in this case, the charges may well be dismissed. Do you understand that?” Barnstable District Court Judge Thomas Barrett asked the woman, according to audio obtained by WBZ.
“Yes, your honor,” she responded.
Prosecutors tried to move forward and called Gannon to the stand where he told the judge that he saw red marks on the victim's neck and her vehicle's slashed tire.
“She told me that Tommy [Latanowich] got on top of her and began strangling her after he pushed her down on the floor,” Gannon testified. “She was able to fight him off. At that point, he took a knife, went out and stabbed her front left tire and ran away on foot.”
The officer's testimony wasn't enough without the victim's testimony and the 911 call. The judge dismissed the case, and Latanowich went free.
“With this individual invoking the Fifth Amendment, the Commonwealth has to go with the hand it’s dealt, unfortunately,” Judge Barrett said. “So the matter will be dismissed for lack of prosecution.”
Had the suspect been convicted, he would have been put away for several years, according to WBZ.
What do state lawmakers say about the death penalty?
Republicans Gov. Charlie Baker and state Rep. Shaunna O’Connell have both said they support the death penalty.
Baker told WGBH that there should be legislation that reflects the danger officers face every day.
And O'Connell said it's time to send a clear message to cop killers.
“We’re talking about a very small part of the population. Cop killers. The worst criminals among us. If you’re going to kill a cop, we need to send a message you’re going to face that same fate,” O’Connell said.
In 1984, voters approved the death penalty, but the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled it unconstitutional.
The last Massachusetts execution was in 1947.
Thousands paid their respects to Gannon at his funeral on Wednesday. The department posthumously promoted the officer to sergeant prior to his funeral service.
Yarmouth Police Chief Frank Fredrickson vowed during a candlelight vigil to make changes that would protect officers' lives.
“The Massachusetts Criminal Justice System has let us down and failed to protect our community and our Yarmouth Police Department,” the department wrote in a statement on Facebook Saturday.
Last Friday, Latanowich pleaded not guilty to murder charges and mistreating a police dog. He's being held without bail.