BOSTON (AP) — Two Massachusetts men imprisoned since age 17 under a mandatory life sentencing law for young offenders pleaded for freedom Thursday during the state’s first parole hearings since its highest court struck down the law in December, part of a cascade of such legal moves around the country.
The men, Joseph Donovan, 38, and Frederick Christian, 37, stood in front of the state parole board pleading for a second chance at freedom. Both were convicted of felony murder charges for their part in separate killings, though neither killed anyone. They’re among 63 inmates in Massachusetts serving life without parole under the juvenile sentencing law.
Donovan was convicted for his participation in the 1992 robbery of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology student who died of stab wounds. He punched the student, Yngve Raustein, and said he was trying to show off in front of new friends by seeming tough.
“I will forever feel ashamed of the actions that night that resulted in the death of such a promising young man,” Donovan said at the hearing. “I was such a stupid kid,” he added, saying he was rash and impulsive and never thought about consequences.
The person convicted of stabbing Raustein was released from prison a decade ago.
In December, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that lifelong imprisonment for juveniles is a cruel and unusual punishment, saying scientific research showed that their brains were not fully developed.
The decision followed a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012, Miller v. Alabama, which struck down such mandatory life sentencing laws. A handful of states, including Hawaii, West Virginia and Texas, have followed suit, either through state court rulings or legislative action.
There are about 2,500 inmates serving such sentences nationally, and the two Massachusetts men appear to be among the first wave of them to seek their freedom since the Supreme Court decision. One Arizona man who was 15 when he was convicted of killing his mother and stepfather nearly a half-century ago was granted clemency by Gov. Jan Brewer in March.
If released, Donovan hopes to pursue his love for art, become a paralegal and spend time with his family and friends, who filled the seats at the hearing.
“He doesn’t deserve to be in there anymore,” said Carol Hallisey, a cousin who has visited Donovan in prison three times a month for years.
Raustein’s relatives have not forgiven Donovan but said he has served his time and that it would bring them peace if he is released, according to a prosecutor. The family did not attend the hearing.
The parole board and prosecutors cited violent altercations early in Donovan’s time in prison as cause for concern, but he has had no violent offenses in the past 14 years. It could take months for the board to issue its decision in his case or Christian’s.
Christian was convicted in a 1994 premeditated robbery in which two people were killed and one was wounded by a shot in the head. He has served 20 years.
Christian had a clean record while imprisoned and said he wants to return to Tennessee, where he has lived, to be closer to his family.
His attorney, Joseph Mulhern, said his client “is remorseful and takes full responsibility for his crime.”
But Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz said that though Christian didn’t pull the trigger, he set up the robbery. “I don’t know if Christian has changed,” Cruz said. “All I know is that the two that are dead haven’t.”
The surviving robbery victim, Carolos Araujo, 38, said Christian is “a stone-cold killer” and is fearful for his safety and that of his eight daughters if Christian were released.
If release is granted to either inmate, they would first be moved to a minimum security facility.
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