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Local News

January 24, 2014

Easing the pain for victims' families

(Continued)

As a result of the SJC ruling, approximately 63 people who were convicted of first-degree murder as juveniles will now be eligible for parole, including nine in Essex County.

The SJC explicitly stated that it was within the rights of the Legislature to treat juveniles convicted of first-degree murder more harshly than those found guilty of other crimes, such as second-degree murder. Senators said the bill reflects their best attempt to strike a balance between the constitutionality of sentencing and holding juveniles accountable for their crimes.

Finegold chose to file the bill after the parents of Colleen Ritzer, the 24-year-old Danvers High School teacher murdered by a 14-year-old student, reached out to him upset by the court’s ruling. Finegold read a statement from the Ritzer family, who said the bill would be a “significant improvement” over the court’s decision.

Kellie Schaffer, the sister of Beth Brodie, a 15-year-old from Groveland who was beaten to death with an aluminum baseball bat in 1992 by a 16-year-old boy she’d dated several times, said the SJC ruling “feels like a slap in the face.”

“I don’t believe we should be forced to relive our tragedy again,” she said. “Our murdered loved ones deserve better than that. They deserve justice.”

Some defense lawyers have urged caution in responding to the court rulings.

“Judges need to have some discretion on where to set parole eligibility based on the individual young person, their background and the circumstances of the offenses,” said Joshua Dohan, director of the Youth Advocacy Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state’s public defender agency.

“I understand where it’s coming from. Everybody feels for the families that have had to go through this and there’s nothing you can do to make that better for them. But when it comes to then how do you deal with the youthful offender, the answer is no, this is not fair,” Dohan said. “It needs to be after a reasonable term. Thirty-five years is not reasonable.”

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