Of Cullens and columns


As I've previously noted, Globe metro columnist Kevin Cullen is a pleasure to read when he's doing his job well. But Cullen is the journalistic equivalent of the girl with the little curl: excellent at his best, and at his worst...not so excellent. 

By way of example, consider today's Cullen offering, which deals with an alleged miscarriage of justice involving the late Vinnie Tamburello. It may be true, as Cullen argues, that Vermont prosecutor Bob Sand went too easy on Tamburello's killer. (This story certainly suggests that he did.) In striving to make this case, however, Cullen does himself--and Tamburello--a disservice, relying so heavily on overheated prose and dubious logic that you come away feeling less sympathetic toward Tamburello, not more. 

What Cullen needed, in this case, was an editor willing to rein him in. Here's how this could have helped matters; all hypothetical editorial comments are in bold:

OF TOWNIES AND JUSTICE [Catchy, but there's just one Charlestown guy, so--"Of a Townie and justice"?]

Vinnie Tamburello's next-to-last mistake was bringing an ax to a gunfight.

His last mistake was attacking a man's pickup truck in Vermont. Because, in Vermont, this is a crime punishable by death. [Actually, his third-to-last mistake was bringing the axe to the gunfight; his second-to-last mistake was running at a man with an axe; and his last mistake was attacking that man's pickup with the axe. Careful not to gloss over what Tamburello did]

IIt started over a stupid fight. Vinnie Tamburello showed up for a prearranged meeting at a park in Chester, Vt., with a guy he had been jamming with. [Most readers will think this means Tamburello and Bolaski had been playing music together. Consider changing "jamming" to "feuding"--and explaining what the feud was about. This Rutland Herald report offers some background that's worth looking into, either to recount or debunk] Vinnie was in a car with two women. His opponent showed up with a bunch of guys, two of whom had guns in their trucks.

Vinnie Tamburello grew up in Charlestown and he did not run away from fight. [Sounds like we're lionizing Tamburello here...] In fact, he ran toward this one, ax in hand. He headed straight toward a fellow named Kyle Bolaski, who did something very wise in running away.

Unfortunately, he stopped running when he saw Vinnie take an ax to the side of his truck. An enraged Bolaski took a high-powered rifle from his truck and shot Vinnie in the leg. Vinnie turned to get away, ax still in hand, and Bolaski followed and fired the fatal shot into his back.

Then Bolaski stood over a dying man and smashed his face repeatedly with a rifle butt. The orbit of Vinnie's eye was pulverized.

Oh, and for good measure, one of Bolaski's friends, a fellow named Tim Arbuckle, went over and kicked Vinnie Tamburello as he lay dying. [Arbuckle denied this last week; if unresolved, we should probably use "allegedly kicked"]

Kyle Bolaski, who when he isn't getting loaded or loading his rifle [First reference to Bolaski being "loaded"--if significant, explain further] is apparently something of a legal scholar, went around to all the witnesses saying, "That was self-defense." [Note: claiming self defense doesn't mean Bolaski thinks he's a "legal scholar." Let the facts speak for themselves]

The police arrived and disagreed. Bolaski was charged with second-degree murder, based largely on the statements of his own friends.

But in this part of Vermont, there is townie justice but no justice for Townies. [Again, is there some kind of precedent here? If not, this turn of phrase doesn't work, unless we amend to "no justice for this particular Townie."] Because once Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand got involved, the state of Vermont did everything it could to give the benefit of the doubt to Kyle Bolaski and turned its back on a blow-in from Massachusetts named Vinnie Tamburello.

Sand took the case to a grand jury, and - surprise! - the witness accounts changed and Bolaski's charge was reduced from murder to aggravated assault: smashing Vinnie's face with the rifle butt. It's as if the shooting of Vinnie Tamburello didn't even happen, which would come as news to Vinnie Tamburello in his grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden.

Vince and Ronnie Tamburello stood in their shipping store in Methuen the other day, filled with grief and rage and questions, convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that Bob Sand bagged the case, that if their son wasn't some working-class stiff  [First mention of class. What's Bolaski's socioeconomic status?] from Charlestown who had just moved to Vermont, things would be different.

"The witnesses changed their stories," Vince Tamburello said. "The prosecutor went out of his way to take Kyle Bolaski's version and minimize anything that pointed to the fact that he committed murder. The whole thing stinks. Vinnie shouldn't be dead for hitting some guy's truck." [If you haven't already, this is a good point to make clear that you understand Tamburello was no angel--and that his father's account is understandably incomplete]

Bob Sand said many things when I talked to him. [Since we quote Tamburello Sr. claiming prosecutorial conduct, we should probably let Sand respond to that allegation in his own words.] He said the wounded Vinnie was still a threat as he advanced toward Bolaski's brother, who was also armed with a rifle, and who peeled off two shots at Vinnie that missed. And he said he understands the Tamburellos's frustration, but they are mistaken when they say he is supposed to be an advocate for them or their dead son.

"I don't have a side in this," he said. "My job is to see that justice is done."

He offered to let any outside prosecutor of the Tamburellos's choosing go over the evidence. "I will listen, and if someone thinks the judgment call made here was wrong, I'm man enough to admit I made a mistake," he said.

He vehemently denied there was any favoritism toward native Vermonters.

Ronnie Tamburello shook her head.

"Do you know what really stinks?" Vinnie Tamburello's mother said. "Vinnie's initials are VT." [Odd ending; doesn't really seem related to Sand's denial of favoritism. Rewrite?]

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