DANVERS — Lawyers for a former Lawrence man who was convicted of murder in the 2006 dragging death of a Boxford man are appealing a judge's ruling denying their request for funds to hire a social worker for their client. 

Roy Dowds Jr., 45, was sentenced to life without parole in 2007 after a Lawrence Superior Court jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in the death of 20-year-old Keith Koster. 

Koster was killed when he tried to stop Dowds from stealing his SUV, parked outside Giblee's, the Route 114 menswear store where Koster was working at the time.

But last November, the Supreme Judicial Court decided to reduce the conviction to second-degree murder, citing Dowds' history of head injuries, ingestion of lead paint, and abuse as a child — information that was not presented to the jury during his 2007 trial.

That decision entitled Dowds to seek parole after serving 15 years of the life sentence. The ruling requires a judge to re-sentence Dowds. 

At the time of the incident, Dowds was on probation after serving a sentence for stealing a car and nearly running down a police officer in Salem in 2000. 

Trial Judge Richard Welch, now retired, ordered that Dowds first serve a sentence for violating his probation in that earlier case before starting his life sentence. 

With the reduction of his conviction, Dowds would be eligible to seek parole in 2026. 

But in a motion filed last month, Dowds' attorney, David Nathanson, asked the court to approve the hiring of a social worker at $95 an hour, up to $2,500, from the Committee for Public Counsel Services funds, to prepare what he described as a discharge plan for Dowds. 

The social worker, Nathanson argued in his filing, "will assist in preparation for the resentencing hearing by meeting with Mr. Dowds and creating a discharge plan," which would include "housing and employment opportunities, as well as a plan to connect Mr. Dowds with any helpful services." 

He went on to cite possible eligibility for state services and said the social worker would help Dowds submit applications for those benefits. 

The social worker's work "will be crucial in creating a plan to support Mr. Dowds' success in the community," Nathanson said in his motion. 

Nathanson argued that the information would help the court "more appropriately structure" Dowds' sentences. 

But in a two-page decision, Regional Administrative Judge Thomas Drechsler denied the request. 

"There is no basis whatsoever to needlessly expend the funds requested in a case, such as this, in which the court has no discretion to impose any sentence other than life with parole eligibility after 15 years, as required by the law in effect at the time of the offense," Drechsler wrote. 

And he said he has no intention of altering Welch's original sentence structure — disturbing neither the consecutive nature of the sentences imposed, nor the decision by Welch not to impose sentences on two other counts, unarmed robbery and larceny of a motor vehicle. 

"The decision of the trial judge to impose the sentence on count one 'from and after' the probation surrender hearing was not vacated by the decision of the SJC in this case," Drechsler wrote. "This court does not, therefore, have the discretion to alter the sentence in that regard." 

Last week, Nathanson notified the court of his plan to appeal Drechsler's decision to a single justice of the SJC, a move that could delay the re-sentencing. 

A hearing has not been set for the appeal. 

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

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