As a result of the SJC ruling, approximately 63 people who were convicted of first-degree murder as juveniles will now be eligible for parole, including nine in Essex County.
The SJC explicitly stated that it was within the rights of the Legislature to treat juveniles convicted of first-degree murder more harshly than those found guilty of other crimes, such as second-degree murder. Senators said the bill reflects their best attempt to strike a balance between the constitutionality of sentencing and holding juveniles accountable for their crimes.
Finegold chose to file the bill after the parents of Colleen Ritzer, the 24-year-old Danvers High School teacher allegedly murdered by a 14-year-old student, reached out to him upset by the court’s ruling. Finegold read a statement from the Ritzer family, who said the bill would be a “significant improvement” over the court’s decision.
State Rep. Ted Speliotis of Danvers is the chief House sponsor of the bill.
“I spoke with Colleen’s family (and) they clearly are hurting,” Speliotis said. “It’s really a slap at them to think the person responsible for the murder of their daughter would be out of prison before they’re 30.”
Ritzer was a beloved teacher who has been “adopted” by Danvers, he said. “The community clearly has been affected. It hit a raw nerve.”
Speliotis called this legislation a companion bill to one filed last year by Rep. John Keenan of Salem.
“It raises the urgency of the issue,” he said.
Kellie Schaffer, the sister of Beth Brodie, who was beaten to death with an aluminum baseball bat in 1992 by a boy she’d dated several times, said the SJC ruling “feels like a slap in the face.”
“I don’t believe we should be forced to relive our tragedy again,” she said. “Our murdered loved ones deserve better than that. They deserve justice.”