Teen's killer gets parole hearing under SJC ruling  

TIM JEAN/Staff file photoA photo of Sean Aylward and his sister Beth Brodie taken during his wedding flashes on a screen during a Justice for Beth Brodie vigil in 2014. Brodie, 15, was murdered in 1992 by Richard Baldwin, then 16. Baldwin, sentenced to life without parole, now has a parole hearing scheduled after courts ruled denying parole to teen killers is unconstitutional. 

BOSTON — Richard Baldwin, convicted of brutally beating a Groveland teenager to death with a baseball bat more than 27 years ago, is up for parole.

Baldwin, formerly of Peabody, was convicted of murdering Beth Brodie, a 15-year-old cheerleader at Pentucket Regional High School, in 1992. Baldwin, who was 16 at the time, was sentenced to life in prison without parole two years later but became eligible for release along with dozens of other inmates under a controversial December 2013 ruling by the state Supreme Judicial Court.

He has been scheduled for an April 30 hearing before the Parole Board in Natick, according to the state's Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Brodie's brother, Sean Aylward, said he dreads the idea of having to go before a parole board to keep Baldwin locked up.

"We're totally devastated," Aylward said Wednesday. “We've been preparing for it, in the hope that it would never happen. We were promised that he would spend life in prison."

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.

The court’s 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.

"Given the unique characteristics of juvenile offenders, they should be afforded, in appropriate circumstances, the opportunity to be considered for parole suitability," the Massachusetts justices wrote.

The SJC's ruling was retroactive and opened the door for 63 inmates convicted as juveniles to become parole-eligible after serving 15 to 25 years — the same as those convicted of second-degree murder.

Before the rulings, Massachusetts had some of the harshest laws in the nation for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.

In 1996, the state Legislature passed a law that mandated that juveniles 14 years and older charged with murder be tried as adults. Because first-degree murder carries a mandatory sentence of life without parole, juveniles found guilty faced a lifetime behind bars.

Including Diatchenko and Baldwin, the SJC’s ruling affects 63 inmates in Massachusetts who were sentenced as juveniles to life without parole. Among them: Jamie Fuller of Beverly, who murdered his 14-year-old girlfriend, Amy Carnevale, in 1991; and Alfred Brown of Topsfield, who shot and killed his parents and sister in 1978.

Aylward, who meets with families of other murder victims whose killers' convictions were affected by the SJC ruling, estimates about one-third of the 63 convicts have been released since the ruling.

Others have been rejected for parole or transferred from maximum to medium security facilities or entered into pre-release work programs, he said.

In its ruling, the SJC explicitly stated that the Legislature could treat juveniles convicted of first-degree murder more harshly than those found guilty of other crimes.

In 2014, lawmakers considered a proposal from Sens. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, and Barry Finegold, D-Andover, that would have required at least 35 years in prison before a juvenile convicted of first-degree murder could be eligible for parole. The legislation, which was prompted by the SJC ruling, would have applied retroactively to convicted murderers.

But a watered-down final version of the bill approved by the Legislature allows juveniles convicted of first-degree murder to be eligible for parole after serving 20 to 30 years in prison.

And the new sentencing rules apply only to murders committed after the law took effect, which infuriated families of homicide victims who argued the law should include past cases.

"Life without parole should mean life without parole,” said Aylward, who lives in New Hampshire. "We had justice but it's been taken away to spare the few souls who don't deserve it."

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for The Salem News and its sister newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@cnhi.com.