BY JULIE MANGANIS
---- — BEVERLY — A Beverly Farms man who admitted to beating and stabbing his mother, a beloved middle school teacher, to death in 1997 has been denied parole.
The state Parole Board found that Benjamin Murray, who was 19 at the time he killed Gail Murray, shows a “remarkable lack of insight” about serious problems, including the very mental health issues that Murray and his family blamed for the murder.
“In his parole hearing testimony, Murray took the positions that he did not have problems with alcohol, anger, violence or mental health,” the board concluded in its Dec. 27 decision. The parole hearing took place on Nov. 15.
Despite support for Murray from his father, brother and other family members, the board voted unanimously (with two former Essex County prosecutors abstaining) to deny Murray’s first request for parole and ordered that he not reapply for five years. The decision was released Tuesday.
Testifying against parole was an assistant district attorney from Middlesex County, which prosecuted the case because one of Murray’s uncles (now a judge) was an assistant district attorney in Essex County.
The Dec. 23, 1997, murder in a gambrel-style home on Valley Street shocked both the normally quiet neighborhood and the schools where Gail Murray had taught and “Benny” Murray had studied.
Gail Murray was 49 and an eighth-grade English teacher at Beverly’s Memorial Middle School. Colleagues and students described her to a reporter at the time as a beautiful woman who always had a smile on her face and who was “like a mom” to everyone.
Her younger son, Benjamin, had also been an outstanding athlete and well-liked student throughout most of his school years. But after his parents’ divorce and the breakup of his own first serious relationship, Benjamin Murray began to decline, family members said after the killing.
After graduating from Beverly High in 1996, he spent a year at a prep school in Connecticut, then planned to attend college, but left during his college orientation. His mother confided her disappointment to a neighbor, according to a 1997 Salem News account of the murder.
After leaving school, Murray had several scrapes with the law, including at least two arrests, and was involved in several serious fights, one of them with his own brother, who suffered a broken eye socket as a result, according to newspaper accounts and the parole board decision. He showed symptoms of depression, the board found.
On the day he killed his mother, Murray, according to conflicting accounts, had either been let go from or quit a temporary postal service job.
That afternoon, he and his mother were alone in their home when Murray attacked his mother.
Though Gail Murray tried to escape her son’s blows by locking herself in the bathroom, her son kicked in the door. She was stabbed as many as 32 times in the neck, chest, abdomen and back and suffered a skull fracture, multiple rib fractures and a lacerated liver, injuries caused by blows from a hammer.
Shortly after 4 p.m., Murray called 911 and told police he had just killed his mother.
In June 1999, during an emotional hearing in Salem Superior Court, Murray, in a plea agreement with prosecutors, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and received a life sentence, but with the opportunity to seek parole after 15 years.
Benjamin Murray and other family members later blamed “a psychotic break” for the attack, and he says he has no memory of the crime. An expert he hired prior to the parole hearing, Dr. Tali Waters, told the Parole Board that the killing was the result of a psychotic episode.
Family members said he had started hearing voices at the time.
And during his 1999 plea hearing, Murray himself told Judge Regina Quinlan that he had been, at one time, diagnosed with schizophrenia, though a more recent diagnosis was then made of severe depression, for which he was taking Prozac, according to a Salem News account of the proceeding.
The Parole Board said in its decision that Murray has not taken part in any treatment programs while in custody.
“Despite these documented issues, Murray insisted at the hearing that he never had a problem with alcohol and did not have problems with anger or violence,” the board wrote. “He showed little recognition of risks associated with his mental health history.”
The board found that while Murray, who has completed a bachelor’s degree program while in custody, “is an intelligent person with good family support,” the board wrote. “He is not, however, insightful about his own behavior. He denies or minimizes the negative behaviors he exhibited as a teenager. He displays little interest in or understanding of his mental health history or future. This is not an approach conductive to rehabilitation or parole supervision.”
The board also noted the lack of any plans for treatment of Murray’s issues in his parole plan.
“Because he is not rehabilitated, Murray is likely to re-offend if released and his release is not compatible with the welfare of society,” the board wrote. “The inmate has to choose insight over denial and rehabilitative work over complacency. He needs recognition and understanding of his mental health, anger and substance abuse issues and how to treat those issues. He needs an intensive investment in treatment if he wants to minimize the risk of another violent episode.”
Murray is serving his sentence at MCI-Norfolk.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.