NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Opinion

July 10, 2014

Lawmakers fall short on murder bill

State lawmakers have been making some headway on a law to fix the egregious Supreme Court ruling that allows juvenile murderers to qualify for parole after only a few years in jail.

But the solution being concocted on Beacon Hill still falls into the old trap of showing compassion for the murderer at the expense of the victim’s family.

The Senate on Tuesday approved a bill that allows juvenile murderers to qualify for parole after 20 to 30 years in jail — 30 years if the murder is considered to be particularly heinous. The measure applies to those who committed a first-degree murder prior to their 18th birthday.

It now goes back to the House, which had passed a similar measure. Lawmakers have stiffened the existing law — in the wake of the Supreme Court decision last year that threw out the state’s lifetime sentencing for juvenile murderers, only 15 years in jail were required before a parole hearing could occur.

Many families of murder victims were hoping for much longer prison terms than lawmakers have set. We agree with the families — their loss deserves far more deference than the fate of the murderer.

Indeed, the state’s district attorneys agree that juvenile murderers are not entitled to special treatment due to their age at the time of the crime. They recognize the faulty premise of treating juvenile murder differently than adult murder — the junk-science premise that argues that a youth’s lesser-developed brain makes them more susceptible to committing crimes, and thus they deserve more compassion from the criminal justice system.

Four senators from this region of the state — Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport; Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester; Sen. Joan Lovely, D-Salem; and Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover — deserve special recognition for showing their leadership and sensitivity to the families of murder victims.

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