Massachusetts Offenders

December 27, 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Court voted to retroactively re-open the life sentences of dozens of convicted murderers, throwing victims families lives into trauma and uncertainty.

(CNN) — “The highest court in Massachusetts Tuesday struck down down life sentences without parole for juveniles as unconstitutional, ruling that applying such sentences against minors was “strikingly similar, in many respects, to the death penalty.” . . . The decision stems from the case of Gregory Diatchenko, who was 17 when he stabbed Thomas Wharf nine times near Kenmore Square in Boston in 1981. Diatchenko was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The court ruled Diatchenko, who has served 31 years in prison, was eligible to be considered for parole. The court also ruled in the separate case of Marquise Brown, who was tried and convicted last year of first-degree murder in the killing of Tyriffe Lewis. The slaying happened in 2009, when Brown was 17. Brown was awaiting trial when the U.S. Supreme Court made its 2012 ruling in Miller v. Alabama, which affirmed recent high court rulings against harsh criminal sentences.”

RICHARD BALDWIN

Murdered 15 year old Beth Brodie reportedly because she would not go out with him. He received a life without parole sentence, tried as an adult, which was overturned by the December 2013 Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling.

EDWARD O’BRIEN

The victim Janet Downing’s family has set up this parole block effort to keep this killer behind bars.

PHILLIP CHISM

As the chilling details emerge, teen killer Phillip Chism will be tried as an adult.

 

JOHN ODGREN

John Odgren enters the courtroom for sentencing at Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn. he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of James Alenson in January 2007.

Boston Herald

Odgren verdict

JOE DONOVAN

AFTER SUPREME COURT RULING: Massachusetts inmate Joe Donovan has hope now for early release

MORE MEDIA COVERAGE

http://www.publicintegrity.org/2012/02/14/8145/teen-killers-get-inconsistent-sentences

Teen killers get inconsistent sentences

Valerie N. Hall

Shrewsbury teen Valerie N. Hall pushed her mother down a flight of stairs in 2000, smashed her head in with a hammer and left Kathleen Thompsen Hall to die while she went for a ride with her boyfriend. For her mother’s murder, Hall, a depressed and suicidal 16-year-old at the time, served nine years in prison.

Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School student John Odgren, who suffers from depression and other mental ailments, fatally stabbed schoolmate James Alenson in the boy’s bathroom in 2007 when he was 16, and after realizing what he had done, tried to get help. Odgren is serving life without the possibility of parole at Bridgewater State Hospital.

Both crimes were ghastly. Both teens suffered from mental illness. Both were charged with first-degree murder.

But their punishments could not have been more different.

The dispositions of the Hall and Odgren cases illustrate the profound inequities that have grown up in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system since the passage of a tough sentencing law enacted 15 years ago and designed to punish the most depraved “super-predators” among teen killers.

An investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting reveals, for the first time, that that law is not being applied consistently to the most horrific juvenile murder cases, as it was intended. The findings come as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares this spring to tackle whether it is “cruel and unusual” punishment to sentence juveniles 14 and under to life without parole for murder.

In Massachusetts, there is no obvious pattern as to why some killers are sentenced to life without parole and others — who committed shocking, grisly crimes such as fatally beating a 2-year-old — escaped the harsh sentence. Juveniles whose crimes approach the cruelty of the teen whose case triggered the passage of the 1996 law, Edward O’Brien, have escaped the severe sentence, while spontaneous acts of violence by teenagers with little prior record are punished with life behind bars.

O’Brien was 15 in 1995 when he fatally stabbed his best friend’s mother, slashing her more than 90 times. He was initially to be tried in juvenile court, but public outcry about the possibility of a lenient juvenile sentence led lawmakers to quickly pass the tough new law aimed at punishing “adult crime with adult time.” Under that law, a teen convicted of first-degree murder must serve life in prison without any chance of being released.

Before the change, juvenile killers could only be sentenced to serve until age 21 unless their case was transferred to adult court.

Since 1996, dozens of teens between the ages of 14 and 16 have been charged with murder in Massachusetts, but only seven have been sentenced to life without parole. In only two cases — the fatal beating with a hammer and the stabbing of a stranger in a school restroom — did their crimes approach the depravity of O’Brien’s murder of Janet Downing.

Four of the teenage lifers acted impulsively, settling petty disputes with lethal attacks, the review of murder cases shows. Only two of the seven lifers had a record of violent crime, the investigation found, and two had no criminal history at all.

“We’d like to reserve the maximum penalty for the worst cases, for the most dangerous individuals,” said Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, a critic of the current system. The seven teens that got life without parole “do not appear to be the worst cases.”

In addition, though five juveniles have been charged with murder in Worcester County in the past 15 years, only Hall was convicted of murder. Three of the Worcester-area teens either had their charges dropped, were acquitted or were convicted of a lesser charge, state records show.

Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr. declined comment, referring NECIR to a collective statement issued by all state prosecutors supporting the law.

But examples abound of teens charged with similar — and sometimes more atrocious slayings — whose punishments differ significantly. In one, a 16-year-old went looking for pot at a Brookline High School graduation party, then shot the guest of honor in the chest when he got a racial slur instead. In the other, a 16-year-old stabbed a man 23 times inside his Springfield apartment, returning the next day to steal things from the victim’s home while his body lay nearby.

The murderer in Springfield, Edgardo Rodriguez, accepted a plea deal for the 2004 killing of Joel Rivera Delgado, allowing him to potentially walk free within the next decade.

The other teen, Antonio Fernandez, took his 2002 case to trial and received life without parole for shooting Perry Hughes. Until then, Fernandez had never been charged with anything worse than stealing video games.

Some Massachusetts judges have expressed concern the sentence is not appropriate for teens this young.

Odgren’s trial judge, S. Jane Haggerty, wrote, in a decision denying his attempt to reduce his sentence: “There is tragedy in a sentence of imprisonment for life without the possibility of a parole for a 16-year-old offender in the circumstances of the defendant.”

Similarly, some judges who have presided over juvenile murder cases have expressed discomfort with the use of the maximum sentence.

“I don’t know what the answer is. But I don’t think we do justice by sentencing someone 16 and under to life without parole, no matter what the circumstances,” said retired Superior Court Judge Isaac S. Borenstein, who presided over the Fernandez trial.

Juvenile crime rates have dropped in recent years, but criminologists attribute it more to a decline in youth gang activity than get-tough laws. In fact, the once-feared generation of “super predators” never materialized.

Odgren’s father, Paul Odgren, said it’s time to realize that murder cases are not always clear-cut, and that teenagers convicted of first-degree murder should at least have a chance at parole. He realizes that his child can never again be without constant supervision, but his son has no hope that he’ll ever get out of prison.

“The only thing that is worse than what happened to us is what happened to them,” said Odgren, referring to the victims of his son’s crime.

“Still, kids are not adults. It’s reflected in all our other laws. They can’t drive. They can’t vote. They can’t get married. They can’t join the military. Why should they never, ever have a chance to rehabilitate themselves?” Odgren asked.

Massachusetts is the only state in New England or New York to impose life without parole for crimes committed by juveniles in the past 15 years. Nationally, at least six states have abolished similar laws, making Massachusetts a target of criticism even from law and order Texas where legislators recently repealed life without parole for juveniles.

The Bay State is “meting out unequal justice” to teenagers, declared Texas state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, who led the fight to make juvenile killers eligible for parole after serving 40 years of their life sentence.

No prosecutors from the Massachusetts counties where teens have been sentenced to life without parole — Middlesex, Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk — would comment on their cases for the record.

But the Massachusetts District Attorney’s Association released a statement supporting the law, arguing that teens who commit especially heinous crimes should not get “leniency and mercy that they never showed their victims.”

Tom Reilly, who prosecuted O’Brien when he was Middlesex District Attorney and led the charge for the super predator law, still strongly supports it, saying it has improved public safety.

An adult trial for murder defendants older than 14 “is a perfectly appropriate way of dealing with truly heinous situations,” said Reilly, a former attorney general now in private legal practice.

Some victims’ families argue that, if anything, the super predator law doesn’t go far enough.

“If it was my decision, we’d have the death penalty,” said Olivia Singletary, the adoptive mother of Perry Hughes, Fernandez’s victim.

But critics of the law say that recent scientific studies demonstrate that it’s wrong to treat adolescents like adults in murder cases. Brain imaging research indicates that adolescent brains are underdeveloped in areas associated with risk assessment and moral reasoning, making them more prone to impulsive responses than adults, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, which opposes life without parole for juveniles.

The research findings have led some lawmakers to rethink their stance on the issue.

State Sen. Harriette Chandler, D-Worcester, who voted for the 1996 law, introduced legislation this September to allow juveniles sentenced to life without parole to apply for release after 15 years.

“I’ve had second thoughts,” Chandler said. “Given what we know about how children’s brains develop, they are indeed capable of growth.”

Likewise, some jurors in teen murder trials say they are haunted by the cases. Carlotta White, foreman of the jury that voted to convict 16-year-old Kentel Weaver of first-degree murder in the 2003 shooting of 15-year-old Germaine Rucker, said she had no idea Weaver could wind up with such a harsh sentence.

“I didn’t think he was going to get life,” she said.

Like Fernandez, Kevin Keo rejected a deal from prosecutors that would have made him eligible for parole in 15 to 16 years for the shooting death of Christian Vargas-Martinez, a gang rival he blamed for slicing off part of his ear a few weeks earlier. Then 16 and with no criminal record, Keo insisted he was innocent right up to the moment he was sentenced to life without parole.

“He was just a baby a few years ago, and now his life is done,” said Keo’s father, Vong Oung, who now regrets that he didn’t press his son to accept the plea deal.

Parents of some of these teen lifers said they made foolish decisions because they had no understanding of the judicial system. Kentel Weaver, for instance, said he confessed to the murder of Germaine Rucker mainly because his mother mistakenly insisted that was the only way he could get a lawyer.

Another lifer was left to make life-determining legal decisions almost entirely on his own.

Noeun Sok, a 15-year-old Cambodian immigrant, was accompanied only by his sister when surrendering to police in 1999. He immediately waived his right to remain silent and confessed to fatally stabbing a gang rival earlier that day. At his friend’s urging, Sok admitted that he chased Keoudone “Tiny” Onexavieng, 18, down the street and put a 30-inch samurai sword in his back.

“I never meant to hurt Tiny. I only wanted to scare him,” Sok told the police in 1999.

Sok’s parents didn’t attend his trial, so when he began sobbing uncontrollably, the judge ordered an additional lawyer to act as his guardian.

Other teens that had lengthier, more violent criminal records than Sok, Keo and Fernandez have escaped the sentence of life without parole.

Michael “Shawn” Warner’s juvenile record included multiple counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon when the 15-year-old twice shot John Rodrigues from behind during a drug dispute. He fled the scene on his scooter and evaded arrest for nearly three years.

But the jury in Suffolk Superior Court couldn’t reach a verdict at his 2003 and 2007 trials and prosecutors instead offered him a deal to plead guilty to manslaughter. Sentenced to 12 to 14 years in prison, Warner is eligible for release between 2020 and 2024.

Likewise, Billeoum Phan, a 14-year-old Lowell boy, had already faced charges in numerous violent attacks before he shot Samnang Oth, a feared gang member, during a 2006 birthday party in Lowell. Yet, he was convicted of manslaughter — not first-degree murder — and the trial judge pronounced him “salvageable,” sentencing him to the Department of Youth Services until he turns 21. After that, he’ll have to serve five years’ probation and an additional 12-year suspended sentence.

 

 

 

PROFILES

Alfred Brown

Victim: His mother Yoshiko, 49, his father Wilfred, 45, and his sister Dorina, 20

Age at time of murder: 15

Crime date: January 27, 1978

Crime location: Topsfield

Crimes: Mass murder & familicide 

Weapon: .22 caliber rifle

Murder method: Gunshots 

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to life with parole

Incarceration status: Incarcerated at MCI Norfolk

Man who killed family as a teen is denied parole | Local News |  salemnews.com
Brown
photos presented at hearing
Wilfred (left), Dorina (middle), and Yoshiko (right)

Summary

Brown murdered his parents and sister in their home. He first shot his mother Yoshiko in the head, before turning the gun on his sister, shooting her twice in the back, twice in the chest, and in the head. When his father returned, he shot him six times, including once in the head. His LWOP sentenced were reduced to life with parole after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that juvenile LWOP was unconstitutional. The killer had approximately 20 disciplinary infractions while incarcerated and was denied parole.

Details

Anthony Ayala, Che Barnes, David Sampson, Ezekiel Hogan, Michael Williams, & Terrance Wade

Victim: Kimberly Rae Harbour, 26

Age at time of murder: 15

Crime location:  Boston

Crime date: October 31, 1990

Killers: Anthony Ayala, 15, Carlos Garcia, 18, Che Barnes, 17, Corey James, 19, David Sampson, 16, Ezekiel Hogan, 15, Michael Williams, 16, & Terrance Wade, 15 

Crimes: Kidnapping, gang-rape, armed robbery & murder

Murder method: 132 stab wounds, at least eighteen blunt-force injuries, & excessive bleeding

Summary

The gang attacked Kimberly and her friend, kidnapped Kimberly, took her to a ditch, ripped off her clothing and gang-raped her. They killed the young mother, inflicting 132 stab wounds and 18 blunt force injuries. The killers got varying sentences, some of which were reduced after a 2013 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision banning juvenile life without parole (LWOP).

Details

Anthony Robinson

Victim: Barrington Nevins

Age at time of murder: 17

Crime location:  Boston

Crime date: November 24, 1995

Partners in crime:  Several others

Crimes: Armed robbery & murder

Weapon: Rifle

Murder method: Gunshot to the chest

Murder motivation: Robbery

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15 to life

Summary of the crime

Robinson and his partners in crime robbed several people, including Barrington of their jackets and money. Even though Barrington surrendered his possessions, Robinson shot him to death.

Aristides Duarte

Victim: Charleston Sarjeant, 25

Age at time of murder: 17

Crime location: A Tasty Chicken restaurant in Boston

Crime date:  April 22, 1992

Partner in crime: James Villaroel, Lamar Johnson, Adriano Barros, & others

Weapon: Radio, person, & knife

Murder method: Beating and stabbing 

Murder motivation: Intimidate the restaurant’s owners

Convictions:  Murder in the first degree and assault and battery by means of a dangerous weapon

Sentence: LWOP reduced to 15 to life

Debra Sarjeant, the wife of murder victim, Charleston Sarjeant, holds...  News Photo - Getty Images
Charleston’s wife at his grave

Summary

Charleston Sarjeant was with his wife and friend at a Tasty Chicken restaurant when he was stabbed and beaten to death. The killers intended to attack customers to intimidate the restaurant’s owners, who had complained about them to police.

Details

Christopher Berry

Victim: Virginia Woodward, 87
Age at time of murder: 16
Crime location: Saugus
Crime date: December 27, 1987
Crimes: Home invasion, robbery, & murder
Weapon: Butcher knife
Murder method: Eight stabs to the head, chest, abdomen, upper arms, and hands.
Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) reduced to 15 years to life
Incarceration status: Incarcerated

Victim”s granddaughter, DA detail killer's horrors at parole hearing –  Boston Herald
Berry

Summary

Berry invaded Virginia’s home, stabbed her to death, and robbed her. He was sentenced to LWOP but had his sentence reduced to 15 years to life after Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that juvenile LWOP was unconstitutional. During his incarceration, Berry stabbed two corrections officers and committed over 60 infractions, including several assaults and inciting riots.

Details

Christopher Bousquet

Victim: Lisa LaChance, 16

Age at time of murder: 16

Crime date: June 14, 1982

Crime location: Swansea

Weapon: Knife

Murder method: Stabbing nearly 30 times

Convictions: Murder in the first degree

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15 years to life

Incarceration status: Incarcerated at the Northeast Correctional Center

Summary

Bousquet stabbed Lisa to death and left her in the woods. She was not found until two years later. The jury did not agree with Bousquest’s self-defense claim and convicted him of Lisa’s murder. He was sentenced LWOP but his sentence was reduced when the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared juvenile LWOP unconstitutional. Bouquest’s parole has been denied.

Details

Christopher Pucillo

Victim: Ralph “Jimmy” Tracy, 17

Age at time of murder: 17

Crime date: June 3, 1993

Crime location: Sharon

Partner in crime: Two others

Crimes: Rape, sexual mutilation, torture, & murder

Weapon: Person and pond water

Murder method: Beating and drowning 

Convictions: Murder in the first degree

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15 years to life

Incarceration status: Incarcerated

Man convicted in Sharon murder denied parole in split decision - News - The  Patriot Ledger, Quincy, MA - Quincy, MA
Pucillo

Summary

Pucillo and two others jumped Jimmy, beat him, removed his clothing, and used a stick to penetrate his rectum and strike his testicles. They then dragged Jimmy to the edge of Gavin’s Pond and held his head under water for an extended period of time. Pucillo’s LWOP sentence was reduced to 15-life and he has been denied parole several times.

Details

Daniel Laplante

Victims: Priscilla Jeanne Morgan Gustafson, 33, and her children: Abigail Gustafson, seven; William Gustafson, five; and her unborn baby

Age at time of murder: 17

Crime location: Townsend

Crime date: December 1, 1987

Crimes: Home invasion, rape, kidnapping, child murder, & triple murder 

Weapons: .22 caliber firearm & bathtub for drowning

Murder method: Priscilla– two shots to the head; Abigail & William-drowning

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 45 years to life

Incarceration status: Incarcerated at the MCI Norfolk Prison

Evil teen Daniel LaPlante killed Priscilla Gustafson and her two children
Laplante
Triple Murderer Daniel LaPlante Must Wait 15 More Years Before Chance At  Parole – CBS Boston
Lplante today
Evil teen Daniel LaPlante killed Priscilla Gustafson and her two children
Victims

Summary of the crime

Laplante invaded the Gustafson home, raped Priscilla and shot her to death, and then drowned both children in bathtubs.

Summary

Laplante broke into the victims’ home and murdered them when they returned. Laplante first tied Priscilla to her bed and raped her. He then shot the pregnant nursery school teacher twice in the head, killing her and her unborn baby. Next, Laplante murdered the children, drowning William in a bathtub in the upstairs bedroom and drowning Abigail in the downstairs bathtub. Little Abigail also suffered blunt trauma to the head and compression of the neck. The rapist and child-killer was sentenced to LWOP. However, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that LWOP was unconstitutional for anyone under 18. Any offenders serving LWOP for crimes committed as juveniles became eligible for parole after 15 years. Laplante was re-sentenced to three consecutive 15-life terms, allowing him to be released after 45 years. The killer appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which upheld his sentences.

Details

Edward O’Brien

Victim: Janet Downing, 42

Age at time of murder: 15

Crime location: Somerville 

Crime date: July 23 1995

Murder method: Stabbing 98 times

Convictions: First-degree murder

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15 years to life

Summary

Janet from the Justice for Janet Downing Facebook page
O’Brien

O’Brien was friends with Janet’s son and lived across the street from the Downing family. He developed a pre-occupation with Janet, watching her from a telescope and watching her undress. One summer day, O’Brien entered the Downing residence and stabbed Janet to death as she slept on her couch. The killer was convocated of the murder and sentenced to life in prison. Though his original sentence did not allow for parole, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that juvenile killers must have a chance to be released. The killer is now eligible for release, a prospect that the Downings fear.

Details

George MacNeil

Victim: Bonnie Sue Mitchell, 15

Age at time of murder: 16

Crime location: Lynn

Crime date: October 18, 1981

Murder method: Strangulation

Murder motivation: He told his friends he wanted to kill Bonnie because she had an issue with his current girlfriend

Weapon: Rope

Convictions: First-degree murder

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15 years to life

Incarceration status: Incarcerated at Old Colony Correctional Center

Parole hearing for man convicted in 1981 teen murder
MacNeill
Justice for Bonnie Sue Mitchell - Home
Bonnie

Summary

MacNeil lured his former girlfriend Bonnie, a 15-year-old aspiring nurse, in to a bathroom in the Pine Grove Cemetery. There, MacNeill strangled Bonnie to death, tied her body to a toilet, and left her. He bragged about the slaying and took friends to see Bonnie’s body. The killer confessed to police and was sentenced to LWOP, through his sentence was reduced after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that juvenile LWOP was unconstitutional. MacNeill has been denied parole.

Details

Gregory Diatchenko

Victim: Thomas Wharf, 55

Age at time of murder: 17

Crime location: Boston

Crime date: May 9, 1981

Crimes: Attempted armed robbery & murder

Weapon: Buck knife

Murder method: Stabbing

Convictions: First-degree murder with malice aforethought and extreme atrocity and cruelty.

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15 to life

Gelzinis: 'Drunk, punk kid' seeks forgiveness, freedom – Boston Herald
Diatchenko

Summary

Diatchenko stabbed Thomas to death during a robbery attempt. The wounds he inflicted upon Thomas were so severe that a paramedic during the trial described his body as “filleted open. Diatchenko was offered a deal from prosecutors in which he would plead guilty to second-degree murder. But he chose to go to trial and was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to LWOP. His appeal lead the Massachusetts Supreme Court to ban juvenile LWOP entirely. Diatchenko was paroled but sent back to prison for violating parole.

Details

James Costello

Victim: Palmira Piciulo, 84

Age at time of murder: 15

Crime location: Boston

Crime date: April 6, 1981

Partner in crime:  Donna Westbrooks & Phillip Pennellator

Crimes:  Robbery & murder

Murder method: Beating and slitting her wrist

Murder motivation: Robbery

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15 years to life

Incarceration status:

COMMONWEALTH vs. PHILLIP PENNELLATORE.

Summary of the crime

The offenders tricked Palmira into inviting them into her apartment and then beat the retired librarian with a telephone cable and hammer and slit her wrist.

Details

Jeff Roberio

Victim:  Lewis Jennings, 79

Age at time of murder: 17

Crime location: Middleborough

Partner in crime: Michael Eagle, 18

Crime date: July 29, 1986

Crimes: Home invasion, robbery, & murder

Weapon: Pillow case for strangling and blunt instrument for beating

Murder method: Strangling and beating

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) reduced to 15 years to life

He killed a 79-year-old man in Middleboro when he was 17. Now, at 51, he's  seeking parole. - News - The Enterprise, Brockton, MA - Brockton, MA
Roberio
Family of murdered Middleboro man fighting to keep teen killer in prison
Lewis

Summary of the crime

Roberio and Eagle invaded Lewis’s home, beat and strangled him to death, and robbed him.

Details

Richard Baldwin

Victim: Beth Brodie, 15

Age at time of murder: 16

Crime location: Groveland

Crime date: November 18, 1992

Weapon: Baseball bat

Murder method: Beating

Murder motivation: Beth did not want to date him

Convictions: First-degree murder

Sentence: Life without parole (LWOP) later reduced to 15-life

Incarceration status: Incarcerated at the Old Colony Correctional Center

Beth Brodie’s killer was sentenced to life without parole — until a new ruling by the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared the sentence unconstitutional.
Beth

Summary

Baldwin beat Beth to death with a baseball bat because she refused to date him. He was convicted of murdering the highschool cheerleader and was sentenced to LWOP. His sentence was reduced to 15-life after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that juvenile LWOP was unconstitutional. The murderer canceled his 2019 parole hearing and remains incarcerated.

Details