SALEM — Essex County prosecutors will meet Monday to begin the process of preparing for parole hearings for nine convicted killers whose life sentences without parole were wiped away by the state’s highest court on Tuesday.
The nine, who were all teenagers under the age of 18 at the time of the murders, were made eligible for parole in the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision. Two others, convicted since 2007, will also someday get a chance at parole.
Now, decades after families of victims were reassured that their loved ones’ killers would never see the outside of a prison, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office is facing the prospect of tracking down those relatives to give them the news.
“Massachusetts prides itself on being enlightened on victims’ rights,” a clearly frustrated Blodgett said yesterday. “And yet this decision comes out on Christmas Eve day? That’s a pretty tough, bitter pill to swallow for victims’ families who thought that these cases had been put to rest.”
Going forward, the decision also affects sentencing options for Philip Chism, the 14-year-old Danvers boy charged in October with the murder of teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, of Andover.
The court’s 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, held that sentences of life without parole failed to take into account a young defendant’s likelihood of being rehabilitated.
It’s a ruling that goes beyond the United States Supreme Court’s holding in Miller vs. Alabama, said Blodgett, who was recently elected to serve as head of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.
The Miller decision, like the SJC ruling, pointed to recent research showing that the brains of teenagers are still developing, and concluded that it is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment to summarily sentence someone to life without parole under those circumstances.