Families impacted by a recent ruling handed down by the Massachusetts Supreme Court that gives teenagers convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison a shot at parole are planning to rally at the State House on Wednesday to deliver more than 15,000 signatures to Governor Deval Patrick, urging him to help keep the incarcerated assailants in prison.
Back in January, not long after the state Supreme Court struck down life sentences without parole for juveniles convicted of murder before the age of 18, keeping in line with a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Erin Downing, whose mother was murdered by 15-year-old Edward O’Brien in 1995, started a movement to call attention to what she felt was an unjust decision.
In four months, she collected thousands of signatures from family members, neighbors, and complete strangers, blasting the court’s mandate and begging officials like Patrick to intervene in some way.
This week, she will take her fight to the State House to get the matter under the noses of elected leaders. “We just thought it would be a good time to bring these petitions to the Governor,” said Downing, who will be joined by other families whose loved ones were murdered. The families of homicide victims Beth Brodie, Amy Carnevale, Lewis Jennings, and Bonnie Sue Mitchell will also be in attendance.
Downing said each family has been working on their own personal petitions to bring to Patrick’s attention, but they have also worked together as well, ever since the Supreme Court’s ruling. “Over the last few months, we have really reached out to each other, and have been a support system for each other,” said Downing. “For many of these families, including my own, it’s just been hard.”
Because the court’s decision was retroactive, convicted murderers like O’Brien, who was sentenced for stabbing Downing’s mother 98 times, could go before the Parole Board. To be eligible for a parole hearing, inmates have to have served at least 15 years of their life sentence, which could affect some 60 other inmates currently serving time.
To help stop this from happening, some of the families scheduled to gather at the State House have also been working with Senator Bruce Tarr, who filed legislation that would extend the mandatory jail time for convicted juveniles to 35 years, rather than 15. This bill would also be retroactive, and keep people like O’Brien from getting a possible parole hearing anytime soon.
“I ask that all of my colleagues in the House and Senate join in the effort to make these needed changes as soon as possible. The legislature cannot remain silent on the issue, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to advance this measure,” Tarr said in a statement.
Tarr’s legislation will go before the State House’s Joint Committee on the Judiciary the same day that the families drop off their petitions for Patrick. While his bill wouldn’t guarantee that convicted murderers like O’Brien would stay behind bars forever, and certainly doesn’t make revisiting the case any easier on Downing, she is thankful for the work that’s been done. “We have had some really great support,” she said.
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