Blind Justice: The Murder of Kristin Lardner

A father, investigating his daughter's murder, uncovers blunders by law enforcement, courts and corrections agencies brought about by failure to share criminal justice information.

by / February 29, 1996 0
George Lardner Jr., an investigative reporter for the Washington Post -- working in his office on a Saturday -- was about to be dragged into the pit of a parent's worst nightmare. "I was getting some things together for a trip," he said. "The phone rang, I picked it up and all I heard was sobbing. It was my daughter Helen. She shouted at me, 'Dad come home right away.' I could hear my wife Rosemary crying in the background. I said 'What's wrong?' Helen finally said, 'It's Kristin, she's been shot and killed.'

"I found it difficult to believe," Lardner said in a recent interview on National Public Radio. "I told myself it was a mistake. Kristin had lost some of her ID -- someone had taken it some weeks earlier -- and I thought it was just a case of mistaken identity. You grope for all sorts of things when something like that happens."

But disbelief turned to horror as the story unfolded. His daughter, Kristin Lardner, an art student at Boston's Museum School, had been dating a man named Michael Cartier. Cartier became abusive and beat her in a Boston alley. Kristin refused to see him after that -- and even tried to help him get counseling -- but his threats continued and he stalked her.

On May 30, 1992, shortly after Kristin obtained a permanent restraining order, Cartier accosted her near her workplace and asked her to go out with him. She refused, and as she walked away, he shot her in the head. She fell to the sidewalk. Cartier ran away, but returned a short time later and shot her twice more, then went to his apartment and killed himself.

Lardner, grieving and stunned by the murder of his daughter, began to investigate Cartier's past. What he found was a man with a three-page arrest record. A man who -- even though convicted of multiple offenses and four felonies, who repeatedly beat women, violated restraining orders and conditions of probation -- had somehow managed to avoid all but a few months in jail. At the time he shot Kristin, several agencies had reports of Cartier's violations of probation. He should have been in jail.

Lardner's research disclosed a confused non-system of blind, deaf and uncommunicative justice agencies operating without full information. "The isolation of different parts of the justice system from one another, their persistent, almost primitive failure to communicate," said Lardner in his book, The Stalking of Kristin, "became apparent with Cartier's release. We are inundated with talk these days about the information superhighway, but the justice system is still running on dirt roads."

And Kristin, unfortunately, was not an isolated case. In the state that year, she was number 19 in the tally of women and children murdered in domestic disputes.

"The system failed her in more ways than I can count," Lardner told Government Technology. "She wasn't the same girl he was on probation for beating up -- you only get sentenced for robbing the same bank." So, while Cartier played the justice system to his advantage, the system made it easy.

At the time of the murder, Cartier had already violated a temporary restraining order. Kristin reported it to authorities, and expected him to be arrested when he appeared at the next hearing, which was to grant her a permanent restraining order. The court did nothing, and then it was too late.

At one time, Cartier was seeing three different probation officers in three different Massachusetts cities. After a long string of felonies -- including breaking and entering, burglary, malicious destruction of property and injecting his own blood into a restaurant catsup dispenser with a hypodermic needle -- he was finally sentenced to six months in jail. After repeated disciplinary action in jail -- and after continuing to harass a woman he was ordered to leave alone -- he was released early for "good behavior."

While Cartier was in jail, Boston Municipal Court issued an arrest warrant for failure to report to his probation officer. Corrections didn't know what probation was doing, judges in one town didn't know what judges in another town had ordered, and suspended sentences were disconnected from probation violations.

"The system is so witless," wrote Lardner, "that when the dead Cartier failed to show up in Boston Municipal Court as scheduled on June 19, a warrant was issued for his arrest. It was still outstanding when the Post article I wrote was published the following November."

As testament that good can come of even the most terrible events, Lardner's article on his daughter's death won a Pulitzer Prize for feature stories, and brought attention to the problem of domestic abuse and its neglect by authorities.

On Sept 23, 1992 -- four months after Kristin Lardner's murder -- Massachusetts Gov. Weld signed a bill authorizing a computerized Domestic Violence Registry. Into the statewide registry -- the first of its kind in the nation -- go domestic restraining orders and violations of those orders. The bill requires judges to check the registry when considering petitions for domestic restraining orders to spot prior offenses, outstanding warrants or probationary status. Now, when a restraining order is issued, a simple database search effectively closes the door on repeat or multiple offenders like Cartier.

According to Charles McDonald, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety, the Kristin Lardner case was partially responsible for the new registry. At the bill's signing in 1992, Lt. Gov. Argeo Paul Cellucci said "While we cannot reclaim the lives already lost, we can help other lives from being claimed."

During the Domestic Violence Registry's first year of operation, more than 50,000 victims asked for civil restraining orders. More than 75 percent of the abusers had at least one prior criminal offense. Half had a history of assaults, rapes and threats. Twelve percent of abusers were already under probation supervision at the time of the new restraining order.

The registry also corrected a legal absurdity. In The Stalking of Kristin, Lardner cites Suffolk County, Mass., Sheriff Robert Rufo and McDonald, both of whom decried "the absurdity of a system that prevented drivers from getting their licenses renewed if they had an outstanding parking ticket but routinely permitted criminal defendants to go free when there were warrants out for their arrest." Parking tickets had a central registry which could be accessed by every DMV office in the state -- criminal offenses didn't. The registry's success has spurred other information coordination efforts.

Kathleen O'Toole, secretary of Massachusetts' Executive Office of Public Safety, oversees 22 agencies ranging from motor vehicles to corrections and fire services. Historically, she said, valuable agency databases were not linked.

O'Toole -- who began as a Boston police officer and is now on loan to Gov. Weld's cabinet from the Massachusetts State Police -- knows firsthand the reluctance to share sensitive information. "But we've got to put those days behind us," she said. She cited the example of Public Safety overseeing parole, while the courts oversee probation. "Sometimes we're supervising the same clients."

O'Toole is an enthusiastic supporter of information technology and information sharing. Her vision encompasses a statewide voice and data infrastructure for all public safety officials.

She described police cruisers becoming "paperless offices" with access to a wide range of information. Already the state has streamlined drunk driving arrests, giving officers access to prior arrest records and cutting -- from two hours down to five minutes -- the time required to process a suspect. The state also built a new automated firearms registry, allowing checks of gun ownership for persons against whom domestic restraining orders have been issued. It contains only registered weapons, she said, but it at least helps coordinate the information that is available to authorities.

In Boston itself, police have a new imaging system for collecting and distributing mug shots and fingerprints. Other cities are interested in connecting to the system.

In The Stalking of Kristin, Lardner documents the tragic results of blind justice. The father and investigative reporter also makes an eloquent case for a broader re-evaluation of our treatment of convicted criminal offenders.

"... Our tolerance of crime, particularly violent crime," he wrote, "seems to know no bounds. We shrug it off until it happens to us. And when society is confronted with too much of it to ignore, it blames itself more than the perpetrators. It talks of long-range solutions, of saving the next generation with the same kind of social programs that failed to save the present one. We look for excuses to do anything but hold people accountable for their conduct. In the process, we normalize criminal behavior. Instead of being outraged by it, we learn to live with it."

Lardner's call for justice has been heard, and progress is occurring. Today, Massachusetts' Domestic Violence Registry is helping protect other women from Kristin's fate. The courthouse where she sought a restraining order now displays information on women's shelters, hotlines and other assistance.

Provisions of the Omnibus Crime Bill are also steps in the right direction, said Lardner, including -- for the first time -- the right of the victim to tell a judge of dangers posed by pre-trial release of the accused.


Ref: "The Stalking of Kristin" by George Lardner, Jr., The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1995

May 10, 1987 Arrested in Merrimac, Mass., for putting stolen license tags on a car and driving it. Judged in Amesbury District Court, fined $525 and put on probation for three months.

Aug. 30, 1987 (While on probation) arrested for brawling in Lawrence, Mass. Case continued.

Sept. 11, 1987 Warrant issued for his arrest for failing to pay his fine on the auto charges.

Sept. 12, 1987 Arrested for fighting with restaurant employees, released on own recognizance (no checks for outstanding warrants).

Nov. 10, 1987 Cartier in Lawrence District Court for two disorderly conduct cases, put on probation for six months. (No action on Amesbury warrant.)

Christmas 1987 Arrested on outstanding Amesbury warrant.

Dec. 23, 1987-Jan 9, 1988 Confined in Lawrence House of Correction until he paid the fine.

Aug. 20, 1988 Arrested for trespassing. Released on own recognizance.

Sept. 10, 1988 Broke into a Lawrence market, stealing money, $1,050 worth of lottery tickets and cigarettes. Charged with breaking and entering, grand larceny and malicious destruction of property worth more than $250 (all felonies), released on personal recognizance bond of $5,000 (for which he paid nothing upfront).

Sept. 23, 1988 Arrested on felony charge of breaking glass door of a Lawrence store causing more than $250 damages. Released on own recognizance.

July 8, 1989 Sentenced to six months in Lawrence House of Correction for market break-in. Given concurrent 30-day sentence for malicious destruction at second store.. All jail time suspended, put on one year's probation.

Aug. 29,1989 Injected blood into a restaurant catsup dispenser in Andover, Mass.

Late 1989 Moved to Boston.

June 15, 1990 Found guilty of illegally contaminating food (a felony), and unlawful possession of hypodermic needle. Given probation. (Still had six months coming for burglary in Lawrence.)

Oct. 4, 1990 Arrested for breaking into a neighbor's apartment (he smashed through the wall with a sledge hammer). Killed a kitten by throwing it through a fourth-floor window. Charged with breaking and entering with intent to commit a felony, malicious destruction of property worth more than $250, and cruelty to animals. (Had six months coming for Lawrence burglary, as this was a multiple violation of probation.) Arraigned in Brighton District Court, pleaded not guilty, released.

Oct. 1990 (Week after incident) Kara Boettger, his female roommate, gets restraining order from district court in Brighton, Mass., asks that he be jailed for probation violations. Cartier violates the restraining order several times.

Oct. 25, 1990 Animal cruelty charge filed. Pleads not guilty, asks for jury trial on that and the two felony counts.

Fall 1990 Beats 17-year-old girlfriend Rose Ryan on Boston Common.

Jan. 11, 1991 Cartier faced revocation of double probation and imposition of six-month sentence. Plea-bargained for probation again, pleading guilty to malicious destruction. Boston Municipal Court decided the case, required him to attend mental health program. Burglary and cruelty to animals charges were dismissed. (Released, even though he was now a four-time convicted felon.)

Feb. 1, 1991 Cartier was told he needed to turn himself in on Feb. 8 in Lawrence, where he was on probation for the catsup incident and had the six-month sentence waiting for the 1988 break-in. Cartier expected to get six months. Case Delayed.

Feb. 22, 1991 Cartier failed to show. Had three different probation officers -- in Malden, Brighton and Lawrence.

March 26, 1991 Threat to kill Rose Ryan reported to his probation officer. Probation officer tells Ryan to go to District Court in Lynn, Mass., to get a restraining order.

March 28, 1991 Probation officer talks to judge in Brighton, gets arrest warrant (takes a month to serve it).

April 2, 1991 (While Boston Police looking for Cartier) brought to Massachusetts Mental Health Center and released when he denied threatening Ryan.

April 14, 1991 Attacks Ryan with scissors in subway station.

April 16, 1991 Ryan gets a restraining order against Cartier, but no fixed address where he could be served.

April 19, 1991 Arrest warrant issued for subway attack.

April 29, 1991 Arrested for probation violation, delivered to Brighton District Court.

May 2, 1991 Court appearance, judge postpones case for a week to untangle the charges against Cartier.

May 9, 1991 Cartier sentenced to three months at House of Correction on Deer Island for violating probation.

June 20, 1991 Brought back to Boston Municipal Court for trial on subway attack.

June 21, 1991 Sentenced to one year in jail (six months to be served at Deer Island, six to be suspended for a two-year probationary period). No contact allowed with Ryan, but he calls her from jail and has other inmates write obscene letters to her. Ryan calls DA's office in Boston to report the matter.

Sept. 9, 1991 A jail disciplinary board sentenced him to 10 days in isolation for refusing to obey orders.

Sept. 16, 1991 Cited in jail for throwing food against a wall, and sent to unit for troublemakers, drew another 10 days in isolation.

Oct. 29, 1991 Sentenced in jail to lockup for attempted arson, destruction of property and lying to an officer.

Nov. 5, 1991 Released from jail early for "good behavior."

Nov. 5, 1991 Taken into custody immediately and sentenced to 59 days in Essex County Jail for catsup bottle incident. (Six-month suspended sentence for 1988 market burglary was plea-bargained away and dismissed.)

Dec. 5, 1991 Cartier given an order to appear (not knowing he was still in jail).

Dec. 19, 1991 Boston Municipal Court issues an arrest order for probation violation (not realizing he was in jail).

Dec. 24, 1991 Cartier released from Correctional Alternative Center in Lawrence.

Jan. 17, 1992 Surrenders to Boston Municipal Court for probation violation, failing to leave Ryan alone. Ordered to attend "alternatives to violence" classes.

Feb. 14, 1992 Cartier violates probation, judge revokes probation, but stays sentence for six months and allows him to "start over."

Feb. 1992 Cartier begins working as a bouncer at a night club.

Feb. 1992 Cartier meets Kristin Lardner

April 15, 1992 Kristin and Cartier argue, he beats her in an alley.

April 16, 1992 Kristin tries to get him into another violence treatment program.

May 7, 1992 Argument by phone with Kristin. Cartier refuses to return $1000 exercise machine purchased with Kristin's credit card. She calls probation officer.

May 11, 1992 Kristin decides to go to the police and get a restraining order. Sergeant calls up three-page rap sheet and shows it to her.

May 12, 1992 Temporary restraining order issued.

May 19, 1992 Kristin reports more phone calls from Cartier, in violation of restraining order. She assumes he will be arrested when he shows up for the hearing. Nothing happens.

May 30, 1992 Cartier murders Kristin Lardner.