BOSTON — Eighteen inmates serving life sentences for first-degree murders they committed as teenagers have been released over the past five years under a controversial state Supreme Judicial Court ruling.
Sixty-three inmates in Massachusetts were affected by the December 2013 ruling that struck down life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
Since then, the Parole Board has held hearings for at least 43 of the convicts seeking release under the high court’s decision, according to state figures.
The board has denied parole to 25 of the teen killers, while granting transfer to lower security prison for eventual release or parole to 18 of them.
Four parole hearings that took place in 2018 are pending decisions, according to the board.
Other inmates affected by the ruling haven’t yet gone before the board.
“It’s troubling,” said Sean Aylward, of New Hampshire, whose 15-year-old sister Beth Brodie was murdered by another teenager in Groveland more than 27 years ago. “Some of the guys who’ve been released were accomplices to the crimes, but there’s a big difference between that and juveniles who were convicted of first-degree, premeditated murder. Life without parole should mean just that.”
His sister’s killer, Richard Baldwin, was sentenced to life in prison without parole in 1992 but became eligible for release along with dozens of other inmates under the SJC ruling.
Baldwin is set for a hearing before the Parole Board on April 30. Aylward said his family is “devastated” about revisiting her murder when they testify against his release.
Jamie Fuller of Beverly, who murdered his 14-year-old girlfriend, Amy Carnevale, in 1991, was scheduled for a parole hearing in February but it was postponed.
Some teen killers have been cleared for release after initially being denied for parole under the SJC ruling, according to state records.
John Nichypor, who was convicted with Joshua Halbert and Kevin Pierce in the 1988 murder of David McLane, of Gloucester, was cleared for release in October.
The teens were convicted of luring McLane, who was gay, to a home where they beat him, slashed his throat, stabbed him and smothered him to death with a cushion.
Nichypor, now 47, was serving a life sentence at MCI-Norfolk and requested parole under the SJC ruling in 2015 but was denied.
Then, in October, the Parole Board approved his second request, finding he has since “demonstrated a level of rehabilitative progress” that warrants his eventual release.
“He stated that he was sorry for his cowardly actions and that he thinks about the victim every day,” the board wrote.
After 18 months in a lower-security facility, Nichypor will be released to live with family members in Florida, the board decided.
McLane’s sisters and a brother-in-law all testified in opposition to his parole, as did Essex Assistant District Attorney A.J. Camelio.
Nichypor’s co-defendant in the case, Halbert, had a second parole hearing on Oct. 31 and is awaiting a decision. Pierce was 18 at the time and cannot seek parole under the SJC ruling.
Christopher Berry, who was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Virginia Woodward in 1987, is among the 25 inmates denied parole since the SJC ruling.
Berry, now 44, admitted breaking into the woman’s Saugus home after a night of drinking and drugs and stabbing her to death with a butcher knife, according to court records. He requested parole under the ruling in 2015 but was denied.
In Massachusetts, inmates serving life sentences are eligible for parole after 15 years.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder as cruel and unusual punishment under the Constitution. The state Supreme Judicial Court followed with a similar ruling.
Its ruling in the case of Gregory Diatchenko, who was 17 when he stabbed a man as he sat in a car in Boston’s Kenmore Square in 1981, held that sentences of life without parole failed to take into account a young defendant’s likelihood of being rehabilitated.
Before the rulings, Massachusetts had some of the harshest laws in the nation for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.
Lawmakers approved new sentencing guidelines in response to the rulings that require juvenile killers to serve at least 20 to 30 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole, but the new rules don’t apply retroactively to previous convictions.
Martin W. Healy, chief operating officer and legal counsel for the Massachusetts Bar Association, said the Parole Board has been criticized by defense lawyers for its reluctance to release inmates serving life sentences, but the data on decisions after the SJC ruling suggests it is more likely to release convicts whose crimes were committed as juveniles.
“I think it shows that the system is working,” he said. “Overall, it’s been a balanced approach by the Parole Board.”
But, he points out, the issue is complicated.
“A lot of these cases are heinous crimes involving extreme cruelty that resulted in them being tried as adults,” he said. “So the Parole Board has to make sure that when they do grant parole they make a wise decision that isn’t going to come back and haunt them. It’s a question of balancing public safety with the constitutional rights of the convicted.”
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at email@example.com.
Eligible for parole
A Supreme Judicial Court ruling in 2013 opened the door for 63 inmates convicted of murder as juveniles to become parole-eligible.
Here are some of them, with descriptions of their crimes based on court decisions and newspaper accounts, and status of their parole requests:
* Alfred Brown of Topsfield was 15 when he shot his parents, Wilfred and Yoshika Brown, and his sister, Dorina, shortly after his mother asked to see his report card in January 1978. He used a rifle his father had given him. Brown went before the Parole Board last year. His request is still pending.
* John Jones was 17 when he and a 16-year-old co-defendant planned to rob and kill Donald Pinkham on "Dead Man's Way" in Gloucester in October 1982. Pinkham was burned and bludgeoned with a rock during the attack. Jones requested parole in 2016, but was denied. His request comes up for review this year.
* Jose Tevenal was 16 when he took part in the robbery of a Lawrence cab driver in February 1985. After being handed some money by the cab driver, Tevenal fired six shots into the driver's head, killing him. Tevenal was granted parole in 2015.
* Joshua Halbert and John Nichypor were teenagers, who with a third teen, Kevin Pierce, went to the Gloucester home of 38-year-old David McLane in 1988 with the intent of "rolling" him because of his sexual orientation. They beat him and slashed his throat. Nichypor was denied parole in 2015, but was approved last year. Halbert was rejected in 2015 but has reapplied, the outcome of which is pending. Pierce was 18 at the time of the killing, and so cannot seek parole under the 2013 SJC ruling.
* Richard Baldwin was a 16-year-old who'd recently moved from Groveland to Peabody when he asked a friend to help him persuade Beth Brodie, 16, a girl he'd dated a few times, to go out with him again. On Nov. 18, 1992, Baldwin entered Brodie's home in Groveland and attacked her with a baseball bat. Baldwin has a parole hearing scheduled for April 30.
* Jamie Fuller was 16 when he lured his girlfriend, 14-year-old Amy Carnevale, to the rear of the Memorial Middle School in Beverly where he stabbed her, slashed her throat and stomped on her head in August 1991. He enlisted friends to help dump Carnevale's body, weighted down with cinder blocks, in a pond. Fuller, now 43, was scheduled for a parole hearing in February, but it was postponed.
* Christopher Berry was 16 when, after a night of drinking and drug use, he was kicked out of his family's Saugus home in 1987. He broke into the home of a neighbor, an 87-year-old widow, and stabbed her multiple times. Berry requested parole in 2016 but was denied. His case comes up for review in 2021.