, Newburyport, MA

May 15, 2014

Victims' families urge minimum sentences for juvenile killers

By Christian M. Wade
Statehouse reporter

---- — BOSTON — Jen Boisvert stepped to the microphones and fought back tears as she recalled how her cousin, Amy Carnevale, was brutally murdered behind Memorial Middle School in Beverly 22 years ago.

“Her killer was sentenced to life without parole. Justice was served, and a promise was made,” Boisvert, of New Hampshire, said at a Statehouse press conference Wednesday. “We want that promise kept.”

Boisvert and dozens of family members of murder victims called for minimum sentences for their killers, convicted as juveniles. They’re watching up pressure on lawmakers in the wake of a ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court last December that made dozens of inmates convicted as teens eligible for parole.

The families of five victims — Carnevale, Beth Brodie, Janet Downing, Lewis Jennings and Bonnie Sue Mitchell – presented Gov. Deval Patrick a petition with more than 15,000 signatures demanding the state prevent their killers from being paroled.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee is taking up nearly a dozen bills that seek minimum sentences for first-degree murderers charges as juveniles.

A bill filed by Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, would keep juvenile killers in prison for at least 35 years before they are parole eligible. A bill filed by state Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, would require life in prison.

Boisvert said she doesn’t know if Jamie Fuller, who was 16 when he stabbed and beat Carnevale to death, will ever appear before a parole board.

“There’s nothing that can bring back my cousin,” she said after the press conference. “But the last thing the family wants is to have to relive this heinous crime.”

In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder as “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Constitution.

The state Supreme Judicial Court followed with a similar ruling in the case of Gregory Diatchenko, who was 17 when he stabbed a man as he sat in a car in Boston’s Kenmore Square in 1981. The state high court ruled that sentences of life without parole failed to consider a young defendant’s likelihood of rehabilitation.

Its ruling was retroactive and opened the door for 63 inmates convicted as juveniles to become parole-eligible after serving 15 to 25 years — the same as those convicted of second-degree murder.

Sean Aylward, brother of Beth Brodie, a 16-year-old Pentucket Regional High School cheerleader who was beaten to death in 1992, told lawmakers juvenile killers should stay behind bars.

Richard Baldwin, then 17, was convicted and sentenced to life without parole in Brodie’s murder. He became parole-eligible under the ruling. Though Baldwin declined a hearing this month, Brodie’s family expects him to seek parole.

“We were promised that he would spend life in prison,” said Aylward, who lives in New Hampshire. “That promise has been broken.”

Prior to the court rulings, Massachusetts boasted some of the country’s toughest laws on juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. A 1996 law mandated that juveniles 14 years and older charged with murder be tried as adults. Those found guilty faced life in prison - the mandatory sentence for first-degree murder.

The SJC ruling explicitly noted that the Legislature could treat juveniles convicted of first-degree murder more harshly than those found guilty of other crimes.

Tarr’s legislation seeks to apply the 35-year minimum sentence to cases where convictions have already been handed down, though it’s unclear if that will be included in the final bill.

His legislation would also require parole boards to weigh additional requirements — including whether the offender had the maturity of an adult when the crime was committed — when considering the release of first-degree murderers.