SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 8, 2014

Response to 'youthful offenders' decision forming

By Dustin Luca
Staff writer

---- — ANDOVER — If a 14-year-old boy from Danvers is eventually found guilty of murdering teacher Colleen Ritzer in October, work is already underway to ensure that as much time passes as possible before he is given a chance for parole.

State Sen. Barry Finegold met with members of the Ritzer family Monday evening in response to a Supreme Judicial Court ruling handed down at the end of December. The decision involved “youthful offenders” serving life sentences and paved the way for granting them an opportunity for parole after 15 years.

The ruling pointed to research stating that a minor’s brain hasn’t fully formed. Therefore, a life sentence without eligibility for parole is considered cruel and unusual punishment given the defendant’s likelihood of being rehabilitated.

The Ritzer family, upset by the decision and how it could impact the sentencing in their daughter’s murder case, is working through Finegold to respond to the decision.

“What we’re trying to do is find a legislative remedy to not have something like this happen,” Finegold said.

The Ritzer family wrote a letter to Gov. Deval Patrick, the contents of which Finegold said he wasn’t willing to disclose. He delivered the letter to the governor’s office yesterday.

What happens next is up to state legislators. While the court is “the law of the land,” and there isn’t anything that Beacon Hill can do to overturn a court decision, the laws surrounding a decision can be changed, according to Finegold.

“We could at least change the number of years that somebody could be eligible for parole before it reaches the category of cruel and unusual punishment,” Finegold said. “Right now, it’s 15 years. Could we make it later? Could we make it a lot longer?”

Already, a larger discussion is taking place.

Following recent newspaper coverage of Finegold’s meeting with the Ritzers, he said, “I’ve been contacted by other families that have experienced something similar to the Ritzer family that are really disappointed in this ruling.”