, Salem, MA

December 20, 2012

Judge grapples with decision on sex offender


---- — SALEM — Justin Devlin, at 28, is disabled by a rare neurological condition, and homeless.

He is also a level 3 sex offender.

When Devlin, who had been staying at the Lifebridge homeless shelter on Margin Street, appeared to have gone off the grid 21/2 years ago, Salem police filed a charge of failing to register as a sex offender.

He turned up months later at a Danvers motel.

Yesterday, a Salem District Court judge grappled with just what to do about Devlin’s admitted violation of the law that required him, as a homeless sex offender, to register with the police every 30 days (the law now requires registration every 45 days).

Prosecutors were urging Judge Michael Lauranzano to send Devlin to jail for six months of a 21/2 year jail term, and to place him on lifetime parole supervision, a requirement, they argue, of the law and a matter of public safety.

Devlin’s lawyer, meanwhile, pleaded for a suspended sentence and no lifetime parole, which, she argued, would pose a hardship for her client, who has no use of his legs.

Devlin was 16 in 2002 when he was found delinquent by reason of unnatural acts on a person under 16 and indecent assault and battery on a person over 14. The victim in the case was 15, but because Devlin was a juvenile at the time, further details of the Newburyport Juvenile Court case are not available.

He was eventually classified by the Sex Offender Registry Board as a “level 3” offender, meaning he deemed to pose the highest risk of re-offending.

Devlin had lived in various North Shore locations before ending up at the Lifebridge shelter in 2009. He registered with police regularly until July 2010. Then, according to a police report, he stopped showing up.

His lawyer, public defender Beth Eisenberg, told the judge yesterday that Devlin had been in and out of the hospital for various medical issues, most of them related to his condition, called hereditary spastic paraplegia.

The condition has cost him the use of his legs and weakness throughout his body, Eisenberg told the judge. He’s currently living in the Barbara McInnis House in Boston’s South End, and trying to find a place in a nursing home — a task made nearly impossible because of his status as a level 3 sex offender. (Eisenberg said she is challenging that classification).

Devlin acknowledged that he should have made contact with the police where he was staying, but Eisenberg suggested that his failure to do so was in part due to anxiety over what would happen to him.

She told Lauranzano that it was “enormously frightening” for Devlin to face the charges.

Besides urging the judge not to send him to jail, she argued against lifetime parole, suggesting that even conditions like a GPS monitoring bracelet would pose a problem for a man who has no use of his legs and who can barely bend over. Beyond that, he’d be unable to use a computer or any cellphone with a camera.

But Lauranzano questioned whether he has discretion, citing the language of the statute.

Eisenberg suggested that the law actually doesn’t mandate lifetime parole, only that a person “shall be subject” to it.

She convinced the judge, who opted not to impose the lifetime parole restrictions on Devlin.

Devlin will be on probation for the next six months, and faces the possibility of spending time in jail if he violates that probation, with a six-month suspended jail term hanging over his head.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.