HEIDI GOSULE JD '03 STILL REMEMBERS SEARCHING FOR THE BODY.
Cranberry bogs. Dumpsters. Corn fields. Murky ponds. Gosule and her parents spent day and night scouring the Cape Cod landscape, attempting to root out any hiding place the police might have missed.
But even as she dedicated every waking second to the search, Gosule dreaded the moment she might stumble upon the body of her older sister Melissa, who had gone missing after accepting a ride from a stranger when her car broke down near the Bourne Bridge. Just as Gosule and her father were arguing about who would be first to jump into the dark depths of a saltwater pond (at the urging of a psychic who claimed the body was at the bottom), they got the call. Eight days after Melissa’s disappearance, her body had been found, buried in a shallow makeshift grave off a remote access road. She had been raped and murdered.
"Even to this day, when I tell the story, it’s so unreal to me that it happened because it just seems so...." Gosule says, trailing off. The related events of the summer of 1999 are hard for anyone to forget. After her car broke down, 27-year-old Melissa Gosule—a teacher, rape crisis counselor, and aspiring journalist— called AAA, only to have the tow truck driver tell her he was too busy to give her a ride. Gosule then accepted a ride from a stranger. Though she kept in almost constant cell phone contact with her mother that evening as she drove with the man, Melissa never arrived at her expected destination. In the days following Melissa’s disappearance, the police determined that the man who had offered her a ride was in fact career criminal Michael Gentile, who had months earlier been released from Barnstable County Jail and had a string of petty crimes on his record. The 32- year-old was arrested several days after Melissa’s disappearance and charged with her kidnapping; when Melissa’s body was found, Gentile was then charged with her murder. In May 2000 he was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Throughout the ordeal, a then-22-year-old Heidi Gosule was an eloquent and outspoken presence. She often served as her family’s press spokesperson and spent much of her time before and during the trial speaking about victims’ rights at area rape crisis centers on behalf of Jane Doe Inc., a Massachusetts coalition of sexual assault and domestic violence programs.
"I’m not sure I know how to deal with it, or if I’m dealing with it," Gosule told a local television station at the time. "I’m just here trying to make a difference." It was her unflagging desire to honor her sister’s life that set Gosule on a new path, one that took her to Suffolk Law and eventually to a career in criminal prosecution. Though Gosule, an American University graduate, had always had a sense that she would enter the field of criminal justice, it wasn’t until after her sister’s murder that her prosecutorial spirit emerged.
"I think people have two choices when something tragic happens to them," she says. "They can wallow in self-pity and become miserable, or they can say, ‘This is really bad, so what can we do to make it good?’"
And to Gosule, Suffolk Law seemed the ideal venue at which to embark upon her chosen path.
"One of the things that was amazing about Suffolk was that it was very practical," says Gosule. "A lot of people who go to Suffolk end up working in the public interest, and that’s what I wanted to do." Gosule became a passionate and dedicated student, inspired by professors like Ann McGonigle Santos, a former prosecutor in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office and currently an associate professor of legal writing. "I think, just in talking with Heidi, that she saw me as a woman who had been a DA for a long time, who was passionate about that field," Santos recalls. "And she clearly was driven by her experience after her sister’s murder."
Today, Gosule is exactly where she worked so hard to be. The 31-year-old is an assistant district attorney in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office, working out of the domestic violence unit. Gosule spends her days prosecuting violent and repeat offenders, all while nurturing empathy for her clients by keeping her own experience close at hand. "Thinking about my sister only makes me want to do that much better of a job," she says.
Victim witness advocate Danielle DeMeo saw Gosule’s fierce determination in one of their first cases together: Gosule fought to have a domestic violence case moved to Superior Court, where the defendant had no priors but where the possibility of a longer sentence existed. Against the odds, Gosule won the case, and the defendant was sentenced to three years in state prison.
"She had to fight for that," DeMeo says. "Heidi and this victim were just really able to relate to one another. Heidi can say to a victim, ‘I understand what you’re going through,’ and she means it."
In addition to her efforts inside the courtroom, Gosule works tirelessly for the passing of Melissa’s Bill, a piece of legislation named in her sister’s honor that would imprison repeat violent offenders for life without parole. Though the bill has languished in the Massachusetts legislature and was recently referred for further study, Gosule still aims to fulfill the promise she made to her mother years ago: to get the bill passed by the 10th anniversary of her sister’s death.
"I’m not going to give up," she insists. "As long as I’m able to talk and as long as people are willing to listen to me, I’m going to keep fighting." Having recently marked her fifth year in the District Attorney’s Office, Gosule says she has a hard time envisioning herself as anything but a prosecutor, despite the notoriously low salary.
"When anyone or any victim says to you, ‘Thank you’ or ‘I’ll never forget what you did for me,’ that’s it. That’s all I need," she says. And in Gosule’s enduring battle to halt the cycle of crime—the same violent cycle that took her sister from her years earlier—she feels she’s never alone. "She’s with me," Gosule says of her slain sister. "We’re fighting crime together. She’s just not here. But she’s with me in my heart every day."
Jeannie Greeley is a Boston-based freelance writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Melissa's Bill and the Melissa Gosule Foundation, visit www.themelissagosulefoundation.org
FROM THE DEANSetting the Pace
LAW BRIEFSSuffolk Law Hosts New Int'l Student Competition
ALUMNI PROFILESDavid A. Wiseman