SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

June 20, 2014

Our view: A watered-down compromise on juvenile parole

The good news is that a legislative committee has agreed to a bill that aims to set parole eligibility terms for juveniles who are convicted of first-degree murder.

An accelerated approval by the full Legislature is important, considering the wide-open parole slate that’s resulted from the Supreme Judicial Court’s maddening Christmas Eve decision that opened the door for past teen killers to seek parole now, and given that the court found its justified “life without parole” initial sentences were unconstitutional.

Yet, the time frame in the bill calls for eligibility after 25 years — 10 years shy of the time frame sought by Senate Minority Leader and initial bill co-sponsor Bruce Tarr. Tarr was right on the mark when he noted that the bill that cleared the committee on Monday “moves in the right direction but needs to go further.”

Ideally, the family members of victims who lost loved ones to these then-teens and their often grisly, premeditated killings would not have to ever deal with these murderers again. They had every reason to believe they wouldn’t, given these convicted killers’ sentences to life without any chance at parole.

It was bad enough having the state’s highest court belatedly clear a path to potential parole and freedom for the likes of John Jones who at 17 killed Donald Pinkham on “Dead Man’s Way” in Gloucester in October 1982, or Joshua Halbert and John Nichypor, who were convicted of murdering 38-year-old David McLane in his Gloucester home, simply because he was gay, in 1988. Now those same families are seeing the Legislature water down Tarr’s proposed 35-year eligibility rule in favor of a time frame that would grant parole eligibility to each of those three right now.

Other killers who have newfound parole eligibility include Alfred Brown of Topsfield, who was 15 in 1978 when he shot and killed his parents and sister after his mother asked to see his report card, and Jamie Fuller, who was 16 in 1991 when he lured his girlfriend, 14-year-old Amy Carnevale, to the rear of Memorial Middle School in Beverly, where he stabbed her, slashed her throat and stomped on her head.

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