BOSTON (CBS) – State lawmakers are pushing a bill through Beacon Hill in the wake of a controversial ruling last month by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. In that ruling, the court decided that all juveniles who are convicted of first degree murder before they are 18 years old must eventually become eligible for parole.
“The pure and innocent are paying the price for the evil and twisted,” says Sean Aylward, whose sister, Beth Brodie, was killed in 1992. Brodie was 15 years old when she was beaten to death with a baseball bat by a 16 year old Groveland classmate who was infatuated with her.
The killer’s sentence — life without parole — essentially disappeared in the wake of December’s ruling by the state’s highest court.
“It’s absolutely horrifying and it’s miserable,” Aylward explains. “We should be spending these days memorializing our sister. Instead, the guy that killed her is getting the bulk of our thoughts.”
Aylward spoke at a Thursday afternoon State House press conference organized by lawmakers supporting a bill that would require a juvenile killer to serve at least 35 years before that parole eligibility kicks in.
“Could I find a number of years that I think is more reasonable,” asked Brodie’s sister Kellie Schaffer at that same press conference. “No, I don’t think that I could. But this feels like a slap in our faces.”
This bill exists in part because the family of Colleen Ritzer pushed for it. Ritzer is the Danvers High School teacher who was allegedly murdered by her 14 year old student last October.
Her family did not attend the press conference, but sent a prepared statement that read in part:
“Lost in the decision of the Supreme Judicial Court is justice for victims and those that mourn such devastating losses. We are thankful for this effort to right a great injustice for victims and their families. It is our hope that Senator Finegold’s proposal will pass the legislature and be signed into law so that those convicted of first-degree murder serve longer sentences before they are eligible for parole and therefore prevented from harming others.”
Despite the emotional appeal of arguments in favor of the bill, advocates for youthful offenders disagree with its intent.
“We’re disappointed,” explains Josh Dohan, the director of the Youth Advocacy Project, the juvenile defender unit of the Massachusetts statewide public defender agency. “Thirty-five years is too much.”
Dohan says he understands where the victims’ families are coming from, “but then we go to what we know historically and in fact, many people are rehabilitated,” he says.
Those who cannot be rehabilitated never leave prison, Dohan says, but those who might be able to live productive lives after serving their sentences should be given a chance to do so.
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