, Newburyport, MA


January 23, 2014

SJC ruling strikes at my family's hearts

To the editor:

Nineteen years have passed since Edward O’Brien entered my home on a warm July night and brutally murdered my mother, Janet Downing. I still remember my screams and uncontrollable tears that night. Thereafter, I endured a personal struggle to overcome the fear and loss of trust that followed and this lasted for years. I am, in effect, a “co-victim” — forced to live and deal with this trauma for the rest of my life.

Over the years, I have received partial solace in his sentence. Life without parole meant I was safe and society was safe. But then I heard the disturbing news on Christmas Eve from my brother, Ryan. The Supreme Judicial Court ruled that it’s unconstitutional for juvenile murderers to be sentenced to life in prison without parole. Worst of all, this decision was retroactive, meaning O’Brien would now have a chance at parole.

I feel victimized all over again by this ruling. My stomach has been in knots. That all-consuming fear I’ve worked so hard to suppress has come rushing back. I’ve experienced sleepless nights and anxiety that feels as though it could swallow me whole. Knowing that my family will now have to relive this nightmare every five years at parole board hearings is incredibly distressing. I am so utterly disappointed in the judges who made this ruling and in Gov. Deval Patrick who has publicly celebrated it!

So I ask this question to the SJC and the governor: Did you ever stop to consider the devastating impact your decision would have on the families of the murder victims or were we not even considered?

Erin Downing


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