Did Massachusetts Fail Alleged Murderer Donald Rudolph?

By Steve Holt | Boston Magazine |

But back to the aging-out problem. The truth is, it’s difficult to determine the success rates of even the most promising policies for dealing with the issue. A big part of the challenge is that you’re dealing with a highly mobile population. Only a few studies have followed transition-age youth, and they have been conducted by independent foundations and think tanks (the Boston Foundation, for instance). The state, on the other hand, stops tracking young adults once they leave its care. McClain says the department has begun keeping tabs on small groups of former foster kids in accordance with a new National Youth in Transition Database, but a full set of data won’t be available until 2016. Until then, he’ll have to continue to fly blind on his policymaking and hope for the best.

WHEN DONALD RUDOLPH turned 18, he found himself with few options. He began drifting between beds at his father’s and mother’s houses, and signed up to continue receiving assistance from DCF.

Then, in April 2011, while at his father’s in Quincy, Rudolph inexplicably took a pellet gun, perched himself in the building’s backyard overlooking Washington Street, lined up his target, and began firing. He hit two women passing by on the sidewalk across the street. Later, police found the pellet rifle leaning against Donald Sr.’s back porch. The teenager was arrested and charged with two counts of assault and battery, a felony that carries a sentence of up to two and a half years. Rudolph was arraigned in May and released on his own recognizance to await trial.

That month, DCF also dropped Rudolph from its care. In a mind-boggling turn of logic, DCF spokes-woman Cayenne Isaksen says the department did so because Rudolph had been incarcerated during his time at school (the decision had nothing to do with the pellet gun incident). She adds that he was notified that he could request to continue receiving services from the department. He did not choose to do so. And with that, Massachusetts willfully cut ties with a man it knew was mentally ill and a threat to others.

Back out on his own and with little oversight, Rudolph was adrift and increasingly volatile. He wandered the streets aimlessly, according to one of his mother’s neighbors. The Globe reported that there was talk in the neighborhood that he’d killed several cats. In August, police arrested Rudolph after following him to a meeting with someone to whom he was selling marijuana. A month later, on September 7, he was arrested again, this time, according to police reports, for allegedly attempting to break into a Quincy home to recover drug money he said he was owed.

On September 14, as a result of that incident, Rudolph pleaded guilty to possession of burglary tools, as well as shooting the women with the pellet gun, and distribution of marijuana. Rather than being locked up, however, Rudolph received a two-year suspended sentence from District Court Judge Diane Moriarty, who put the 18-year-old back out on the streets with an order to receive mental health treatment. But a month later, his mother reportedly told the police that Rudolph was off his medications. And with no one to make sure he got the judge-ordered treatment, there was no guarantee
he would.

In the weeks preceding the triple murders, Rudolph faced increasing heat from authorities for his suspected involvement in a September burglary at the Upland Road home of Beverly McDermott, his mother’s neighbor. A number of items had been taken from the house, including jewelry, foreign coins, and 23 pills of Klonopin, which is used to treat seizures and panic attacks. Rudolph was staying with his father at the time, so Paula asked Donald Sr. whether he’d seen any of the stolen items. He had. Donald Sr. allowed police to search Rudolph’s room in early October, and, according to their reports, they found a backpack full of items taken from McDermott’s home. Rudolph was arrested for the fourth time since becoming an adult, charged with “receiving, buying, or aiding in the concealment of stolen goods,” and ordered to appear in court on November 29. Until then, though, he was set free once again.

  • Rachel Fafard

    I think this young man needs to be shown both love and forgiveness. Mental illness is nothing to overlook yet too often it falls through the cracks in our care systems.