First Assistant District Attorney Paul Caccaviello will take over the office.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — It was 14 years ago, following the unexpected death of District Attorney Gerard D. Downing, that the first assistant, David F. Capeless was called on to step up.
Capeless was appointed to fill Downing's shoes and has routinely been voted in over the last 14 years. But now, Capeless is calling it quits and letting his first assistant take over.
Capeless will retire on March 15 and Gov. Charlie Baker will appoint First Assistant District Attorney Paul Caccaviello to the job.
"I am proud of what I have accomplished in my career, and I leave with my head held high, though my shoulders may have sagged a bit. I am proud of the unity and cooperative efforts of law enforcement in Berkshire County which I have fostered and led since taking office," Capeless said during the brief announcement at his office on Thursday morning. "Each of our county's communities, large and small, from Pittsfield to Peru, New Marlborough to North Adams has benefited from those efforts and it is a model of collaboration that is the envy of other law enforcement agencies within the commonwealth and beyond."
Capeless started his prosecutorial career in 1982 as an assistant district attorney in Middlesex County and nine years later in Berkshire County. In December 2003, his predecessor Downing died, and he was appointed by former Gov. Mitt Romney as district attorney. In all, Capeless retires after more than 35 years in law.
"In some ways, it was a very difficult decision. In some ways, it was an easy decision. It was time," Capeless said.
Capeless' career highlights include the prosecution of Lewis Lent, who kidnapped and murdered 13-year-old Jimmy Bernardo, of Wayne Lo for the 1992 school shooting at Simon's Rock College, of Adam Rosier for the murder of 17-year-old Krystal Hopkins, and most recently of Adam Lee Hall, David Chalue, and Caius Veiovis for kidnapping and murdering David Glasser, Edward Frampton and Robert Chadwell.
"I'm equally proud of all of the cases that my office has prosecuted. I am proud of the people I work with and what they've done. Each year over 7,000 cases are prosecuted out of this office. They are done so diligently, ethically, and professionally. These people put an incredible amount of work in," Capeless said, his voice cracking with emotion.
The Rosier case led to a 1997 decision by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recognizing the use of the short tandem repeat method of DNA testing that has become the industry standard. He prosecuted a case in which a severely retarded woman was raped resulting in a pregnancy and the Supreme Judicial Court set another landmark decision on when a grand jury can compel evidence from a suspect.
"We only do the right thing. We only prosecute the right cases. But when we do, we make sure it is done properly and make sure justice is served," Capeless said.
In 1997, Capeless was honored as the Prosecutor of the Year by the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and has served as the President of that association for two terms.
Capeless has been particularly credited for fostering collaborative efforts to combat drugs, guns, and violence. He served on the state commission on oxycontin and heroin in 2009 which issued a report calling for legislative reform on medical and insurance practices. He spent 12 years working with Berkshire Health System's' Pain Management Project.
In 2015, he sat on the state's Board of the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance. He sits on the Medico-Legal Commission, which provides guidance to the office of the chief medical examiner, and on the state's Forensic Sciences Board. He also has a community outreach and education program aimed to prevent bullying, foster leadership, and curbing drug abuse and violence among the county's teenagers.
"It has been 35 years. This is not an easy job. It has a great deal of stress and it's time. I realized I'd rather be doing something else, in fact, nothing," Capeless said.
Now, 14 years after he took on the role as the county's top prosecutor, he is passing the job onto his assistant. Caccaviello has 28 years of experience as a prosecutor and served the last 13 years as the first assistant district attorney.
"I am honored and humbled, not only that governor Baker will be appointing me to succeed David Capeless but that DA Capeless, really one of the most dedicated public servants I know, has the confidence in me to carry out and maintain the principles and values that are hallmarks of his career," Caccaviello said.
Caccaviello will be sworn into the job on March 15 and he is expected to run for election.
"I had determined some time ago that I did not wish to seek re-election in the fall. And when I confided this to Paul, I was pleased when he said he would take on the campaign to succeed me," Capeless said.
"I have great respect for Paul's character and abilities, and he has the experience and trust of our colleagues in law enforcement to give me the confidence that the Berkshire District Attorney's Office's legacy of fair and even-handed justice will continue under his watch."
Thursday's announcement wasn't what some had expected. Some media had speculated that the announcement was related to the discovery of a body Wednesday in a wooded area in Hatfield that could be Joanne Ringer. Ringer had gone missing almost exactly a year ago from her Clarksburg home and her now deceased husband was identified as the primary suspect. That case has not yet been resolved and Capeless is heading the investigation and the prosecution of Laura Reilly, who is accused of misleading police.
Capeless' office had announced the "major" briefing just hours after the body was found. Ringer's friends had even attended Thursday's briefing in hopes of an update.
Capeless said the timing was a "coincidence" and that his retirement announcement had been planned a long time in advance and that the family had been told privately what the announcement was regarding.
"We are working closely with the Northwestern District Attorney's Office and investigators to determine whether or not, in fact, these are the remains of Joanne Ringer or whether they are someone else. I cannot provide any further information about what we've learned at this point," Capeless said.
Nonetheless, when there is a conclusion in that or any other case, Capeless is confident in the office's ability to prosecute.
"I leave with the full confidence that the quality of prosecution of this office will continue unabated. Yes, I will be gone but there are other people who now have the opportunity to step up," Capeless said.
Capeless said he will stick around and be appointed as a special assistant district attorney but only to handle the appeals of the triple murder. Other than that, he said he has no other professional plans.
"I don't have any plans. My wife has a lot of plans. There is a lot waiting around the yard for me. But I do not have any professional plans," he said.
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