SAN DIEGO -- A couple who was attacked by a convicted murderer released under a Massachusetts furlough program launched a series of appearances in key electoral regions Friday to denounce Michael Dukakis's stand on crime. The Democrats called the tactic despicable.
Cliff Barnes, accompanied by his wife, Angela, said their decision to go public was not rooted in political ideology but based on fears that the Democratic presidential candidate remains committed to releasing violent criminals.
'We're speaking out because the Dukakis administration has been hiding the faces of furlough victims behind a smokescreen of phony statistics,' he said at a news conference.
The Dukakis campaign has 'never shown any personal concern for us at all. We haven't gotten so much as an apology. We're speaking out because we aren't just statistics -- and we aren't expendable.'
Brutally assaulted by Willie Horton last year in their home in Oxon Hill, Md., the couple was joined at the start of a four-state tour by the sister of the man murdered by Horton in 1974.
'When we heard that Horton had escaped on furlough, we assumed someone must have made a mistake,' said Donna Cuomo, whose 17-year-old brother, Joey Fournier, was killed by Horton during a robbery.
'When my family learned this was a routine program of the Dukakis administration to release murderers, we felt betrayed.'
Besides the news conferences in San Diego, the Barneses and Cuomo also were scheduled to appear Friday in Los Angeles, Bakersfield and Sacramento. Later, they will hold news conferences in three Texas cities - Austin, Houston and Dallas -- and travel to Ohio and Michigan. All four states are key battlegrounds in the presidential campaign.
At the Los Angeles news conference, Cuomo, who said she supports furloughs in some cases for less serious offenders, said she may appear in future Bush campaign ads.
The news conferences were sponsored by the Committee for the Presidency-George Bush Media Fund, a Los Angeles-based group headed by retired baseball great Steve Garvey.
The committee is not formally affiliated with Vice President George Bush's presidential campaign, but the Democrats assailed the Bush campaign over the appearances by the Barnes couple.
Dukakis campaign spokesman Dayton Duncan said the use of the Barnes was a 'despicable tactic,' and he charged that Bush is 'taking a tragedy and using it as a political football.
'He is obscuring real facts and records on crime and trying to change the subject from (vice presidential candidate Dan) Quayle.'
Although Dukakis has said Horton's release was a mistake, he has defended the furlough program, which was created in 1972 by Republican Gov. Francis Sargent.
This spring, after the Horton case gained notoriety, the Massachusetts legislature approved a new state law banning furloughs for first-degree murderers.
Cliff Barnes recalled how Horton, free on a 48-hour pass from a Massachusetts prison, broke into the couple's home on April 3, 1987.
Over a 12-hour period, Horton tied Cliff Barnes in the basement, repeatedly slashed him and raped his fiancee twice, he said. Horton was captured and later sentenced in Maryland to two life terms plus 85 years.
'This is not political -- we're registered independents,' said Barnes. 'But the facts speak for themselves. Massachusetts is the only state that routinely released convicted murderers on unescorted weekend passes.'
'And we're living proof that the fallout from that can happen anywhere. We live in Maryland and Horton was furloughed in Massachusetts.'