By Sara Brown
---- — GROVELAND — Beth Brodie was the young victim of a brutal murder more than two decades ago.
But close to 1,000 people turned out for a candlelight vigil at the Bagnall Elementary School early Saturday night to remember her and nine other Essex County victims who died at the hands of convicted juvenile murderers. The crowd came to reflect, pray and sing songs in remembrance of the victims.
People also joined family and friends of Beth Brodie in expressing their dismay about the recent ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional.
“I’m shocked,” family friend Danielle Avery said while wearing a pink T-shirt with Brodie’s picture on it. “I can’t believe this can happen.”
As a result of the SJC decision, juveniles convicted of murder could be eligible for parole in as little as 15 years.
Beth Brodie of Groveland was just 15 years old in November 1992 when she was brutally murdered after telling Richard Baldwin she didn’t want to date him. Baldwin, who was 16 at the time and had recently moved from Groveland to Peabody, beat her to death with a metal baseball bat. Baldwin was subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He appealed the decision to the state Supreme Court in 1997, saying he did not get a fair trial, but the court ruled against him.
Family and friends used Saturday’s vigil as a public forum to protest the SJC ruling.
“We were promised justice and that’s life in prison without parole,” Avery said. Brodie was Avery’s childhood best friend. She, along with some other classmates of Brodie’s, started the Justice For Beth Brodie group after hearing about the SJC ruling.
“To have to go through this again and maybe every five years, it’s just heartbreaking,” Avery said. “There is no closure.”
Members of Justice for Beth Brodie are urging the public to sign a petition, as well as write letters to the governor, the district attorney, the parole board and to the media to stop Baldwin and others like him from being paroled.
Many within the Groveland community came out to support the Brodie family and their cause. Some did not even know Beth Brodie but felt the need to be there.
“I grew up in Groveland. I didn’t know Beth personally, but I know others that did and saw how the loss affected them. I felt like I needed to be here to show support,” Rachel Vigeant said.
One of the reasons for the recent SJC ruling is that many believe the mind is not fully developed under 18 years of age.
“By 16, you know what you’re doing. You know hurting someone is wrong,” Vigeant said. “I would like to see the science behind this thought.”
Beth Brodie’s father, Steve Brodie, agreed.
“A 16-year-old knows the difference between right and wrong,” he said. “He should be punished accordingly.”
“The first thing he (Baldwin) said the next day to his mother was, “‘Hey Ma, did I make the news?’ He had no remorse.”
Vigeant said she has been following the Colleen Ritzer case as well, since she knows people in Danvers. Ritzer was allegedly killed by her 14-year-old student at Danvers High School last year.
The Brodie family lit a candle in memory of Ritzer and for the other nine victims in Essex County who could be affected by this new ruling.
Once lighting a candle in memory of their daughter, they lit everyone’s candle with Beth Brodie’s candle. They did this so everyone can “receive Beth’s light.”
As people shared their memories of Brodie, many guests could be seen wiping away tears.
Avery said Beth Brodie was one of the nicest people she ever met.
“Her smile could light up a room,” she said. “She had one of the most sweetest, angelic souls.”
Steve Brodie remembers his daughter as a “happy-go-lucky” teenage girl.
“She was innocent,” he said fighting back tears. “She was kind.”
Avery hopes the candlelight vigil gets noticed by many.
“Hopefully, this all works out and true justice prevails,” she said.