Uproar Over Mass. Judge Who Released Killer Takes Political Tilt for Romney Campaign

The uproar over the Massachusetts judge who released a convicted killer now being held on two fresh murders in Washington state has taken a political tilt for the campaign of Mitt Romney, who nominated the judge when he was governor.

The GOP presidential candidate on Saturday personally called for the resignation of Superior Court Judge Kathe M. Tuttman, who overruled a lower court ruling and released convicted killer Daniel Tavares Jr. in July, rejecting prosecutors' request to set his bail at $50,000 after he was arrested on assault charges. Tavares had also once threatened to kill Romney.

"The judge showed an inexplicable lack of good judgment in a hearing that decided to put someone on the street who had not only in the past been convicted of manslaughter, but had threatened the lives of other individuals and was a flight risk ... her lack of judgment suggested a need to resign from that position," Romney said.

But Romney called for the resignation as at least one of his Republican rivals used the incident to criticize his record.

GOP frontrunner Rudy Giuliani said Romney would have to explain the appointment, and that "it's not an isolated situation."

"He had an increase in murder and violent crime while he was governor," Giuliani said. "So it's not so much the isolated situation which he and the judge will have to explain — he's kind of thrown her under the bus, so it's hard to know how this is all going to come out. But the reality is, he did not have a record of reducing violent crime."

In response, Romney spokesman Matt Rhoades said in a statement: "It's troubling that Mayor Giuliani would politicize this tragedy, but the fact is under Governor Romney violent crime in Massachusetts decreased and he had a strong record of appointing law and order judges. When he appointed Judge Tuttman he had every reason to believe she would be too, based on her experience as a prosecutor and her zealous advocacy on behalf of victims."

Rhoades then turned the tables on Giuliani by invoking Bernard Kerik, Giuliani's police commissioner when he was mayor of New York who is now under a 16-count indictment that includes corruption charges.

The controversy over Romney's past appointment raises the political memory of former presidential candidate and Democratic Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis, who maintained a weekend prison furlough program in the state. Under this program, convicted murderer Willie Horton was given a furlough in 1986, and in 1987 he raped and beat up a Maryland woman and her fiancé. Dukakis defended the furlough program and opposed the death penalty. The issue proved damaging to Dukakis in the 1988 general election campaign against GOP nominee George Herbert Walker Bush.

Asked Saturday if he was afraid the press attention on Tuttman would create a similar situation, Romney — who supports the death penalty — said simply, "No, not really."

Romney earlier condemned the judge's decision, even though he would not apologize for her actions. The campaign had expressed his wishes for Tuttman to step down Friday, but Romney's comments Saturday while campaigning in Derry, N.H., marked the first time he personally and publicly stated his expectations.

The Boston Herald originally reported Thursday that Tavares also threatened to kill Romney and other Massachusetts public officials when he was released from prison. He made the threats in February 2006.

When Tuttman ordered the release in July, Tavares had already served 16 years for killing his mother with a carving knife. He had just been released in June before he was rearrested on the assault charges.

Tavares was supposed to continue to see his probation officer, but he reportedly skipped his next court date and left the state.

Four months later, Tavares faces new murder charges in the killing of a Graham, Wash., couple. Tavares fled to Washington to live with a woman he met while in prison. He was arrested on Monday for allegedly shooting to death Brian Mauck, 30, and Beverly Mauck, 28, who lived near him.

Click here to read the report in The Boston Herald.

In Washington state, the father of the newly-married bride who police say was murdered by Tavares wants Romney held accountable for the judge whose decision set Tavares free.

“He was the governor — he picked this judge,” Beverly Mauck’s father, Darrel Slater, 51, told the Herald. “He should be answering for what happened.”

But Romney spokesman Kevin Madden on Friday downplayed the role the former governor had in the nominating process, and said Tuttman was not a political, personal or judicial friend or associate of Romney's.

"Better than apologizing is condemning the decision to give bail," Madden said. "All signs point to a system-wide breakdown. What we need now is to make sure the system doesn't break down again."

Tuttman's appointment came to Romney from the Massachusetts executive judicial appointment board. Tuttman, 55, is a former Essex prosecutor who headed the family crimes and sexual assault unit before her appointment to the bench in 2006.

Romney met with Tuttman and reviewed her qualifications, and then forwarded Tuttman's nomination with his endorsement to the commonwealth's Governor's Council, an eight-member body elected to screen and confirm a variety of gubernatorial appointees, including judicial appointees. The council approved Tuttman's nomination.

FOX News' Major Garrett and Shushannah Walshe and The Associated Press contributed to this report.