SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

January 21, 2014

SJC ruling may spur action on Keenan bill

BY TOM DALTON
STAFF WRITER

---- — SALEM — The recent decision by the state Supreme Judicial Court mandating that juveniles convicted of first-degree murder be parole eligible after 15 years could spur action on a bill filed a year ago by state Rep. John Keenan.

Keenan’s bill, which was filed in response to a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, recommended 35 years as the minimum term served before juvenile murderers would be eligible for a parole hearing.

That’s the same time period recommended Friday by the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association in response to the state ruling.

“I think there’s general support now to do something,” said Keenan, who filed his bill last January after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that courts must at least consider parole eligibility for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder. The Salem representative said he selected that time frame after consulting with former Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone.

“The state Supreme Court has sort of upped the ante,” Keenan said. “Now, I would imagine, that’s going to provide some impetus to move my bill along.”

Keenan said he does not have a sense of the overall sentiment of the House.

“I have not had an opportunity to hear everybody out. ... I’m sure there will be some advocates who think it’s too long, but we’ll see where it goes.”

Keenan’s bill sits in the House Judiciary Committee.

“Our bill needs to have a hearing and hopefully be reported out,” he said.

On Friday, Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett, president of the state DA’s association, said in a letter to legislators that “... the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association believes (the SJC) decision is particularly burdensome to the families of the victims of juvenile murderers, as they are now subjected to the possibility that their loved ones’ killers will be released.

“While not ideal,” Blodgett wrote, “35 years of incarceration would provide victims’ families with some sense of justice and provide a small measure of comfort and security to the community in which the murder occurred.”

Keenan said he believes there is some misunderstanding about the issue. He said parole eligible does not mean juvenile murderers would be paroled after 15 or 35 years, only that they would be eligible for a hearing at that point.

Tom Dalton can be reached at tdalton@salemnews.com.