More than 60 people are currently serving sentences of life without parole in Massachusetts prisons for murders they committed when they were teenagers, cases that are likely to get new scrutiny by defense lawyers after a Supreme Court ruling Monday.
A 1996 law aimed at cracking down on juvenile “super predators” required them to be tried in adult court, but prior to that time, prosecutors could still seek to try juvenile defendants as adults.
The cases, some of them notorious crimes that made headlines and others less well-known, stretch back to 1974, with the most recent sentencing occurring last week. How the sentences will be affected by the Supreme Court ruling, which effectively strikes down Massachusetts law, remains to be determined. Listed are a sampling of cases that could be altered.
Edward S. O’Brien
O’Brien, a Somerville resident who was 15 when he murdered neighbor Janet Downing in 1995, stabbing her dozens of times, was sentenced to life in prison without parole under the earlier rules. But the gruesome details of the killing lent impetus to the passage of the 1996 law.
O’Brien’s father, Edward P. O’Brien, said Monday that lawyers for his son are reviewing the Supreme Court ruling, but they have instructed him not to comment on the strategy they will follow in future court filings.
“We are just trying to absorb it,’’ the elder O’Brien said of the court opinion. “We’ll see what happens.’’
Stephen Solimene, Dowling’s brother, who has served as the family spokesman for years, said Monday he was shocked to learn of the court’s ruling.
“I thought it was over and done with,’’ he said of the case. “I’m just as angry and upset as I was back then.”
When Ray was 16, he had a series of altercations with Dakeem Galloway, 14, in the days
before June 10, 2004. On that day, near Hazelwood Court in Roxbury Ray fired five to six shots from a semiautomatic weapon into a group that included Galloway and his friends, striking Galloway in the back of the head. Ray, of Mattapan, was sentenced to life without parole in June 2007.
Willie Davis Jr., the Boston-based attorney who represented Ray, said the Supreme Court’s ruling is appropriate. “When you sentence someone to life in prison without parole, you’re basically shutting the book on them. But people change, especially when they’re that young, because they haven’t really matured in terms of their thinking and reasoning.’’
Weaver and a group of friends, all from the Dudley Street neighborhood in Dorchester, approached Germaine Rucker, 15, on Aug. 10, 2003, knocked him to the ground from his bicycle, and began beating him. One of the assailants grabbed his backpack and Weaver, who was 16 at the time, shot Rucker in the back and head before fleeing. Weaver was sentenced in May 2006.
Iris Weaver, 48, Kentel Weaver’s mother, said in a brief telephone interview, “I’ve been advised not to talk about the case, but I will say this; Even though I’m not familiar about the Supreme Court’s decision, I’m glad that they did make it unconstitutional. I’m a Christian and I never gave up hope, so this is good news.”
Odgren, a 16-year-old special needs student at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, was convicted of stabbing a fellow student, 15-year-old James F. Alenson, in the school bathroom on Jan. 19, 2007. His defense attorney argued insanity, citing Odgren’s Asperger syndrome.
Odgren’s parents declined to comment Monday on the Supreme Court ruling, but his attorney, Jonathan Shapiro, said he’ll appeal Odgren’s sentence. He added that he may wait for the Massachusetts Legislature to weigh in before filing an appeal. “With the treatment he’s receiving in the state hospital, as well as the changes that come about as a result of growing up, he will be somebody who will at some point be paroled,” he said.
Fernandez was found guilty of first-degree murder after shooting 19-year-old Perry Hughes in the chest during a dispute at a high school graduation party in Brookline on June 20, 2002. Fernandez, who was 16 at the time, fled after the crime but was arrested days later in New York City.
Fernandez’s former attorney, Rosemary Scapicchio, cited adolescent brain development as part of her defense during the trial. His current lawyer, Jack Cunha, says he will pursue a re-trial. “It’s clear that mandatory sentences of life without parole for minors are unconstitutional,” Cunha said. The Fernandez case “”is still on direct appeal and there are a couple things we’re looking at. Adolescent brain development is one of them.”
Hughes’s adoptive mother, Olivia Singletary, said the Supreme Court ruling sends the wrong message. “Perry is not coming back,” Singletary said. “It sends these juveniles the message that they can go out and murder people, and then they can end up back on the streets afterward.”
Bouphavongsa was one of six teenagers who beat 17-year-old Joshua Molina to death
with hammers and shovels in what police deemed a gang-related killing on November 20, 1997. Molina was walking with two friends on Bridge Street in downtown Lowell around 10 p.m. when he was jumped by the gang, with whom he had had a run-in two years earlier.
Bouphavongsa’s attorney could not be reached for comment. Bouphavongsa was 16 at the time of the killing.
Nicholas Fomby-Davis, 14, had been riding on the back of his brother’s scooter in Dorchester on May 30, 2010, when they nearly collided with Fernandes and Crisostomo Lopes. Moments later, Fomby-Davis took his brother’s helmet and scooter and tried to ride off alone. Fernandes and Lopes pulled Fomby-Davis off the scooter and Fernandes shot him in the chest and leg. Fernandes, who was 16 when he shot Fomby-Davis, was sentenced last Friday. Lopes, who was 20 at the time of the shooting, also received life without parole.
Prosecutors called Nathaniel Davis Jr., the victim’s father, Monday morning to inform him of the high court’s decision.
“He knew exactly what he was doing when he picked up that gun,” Davis said of Fernandes. “They were just cold-blooded, execution-style killers. Why should he kill somebody and get out of jail in 15 years?”
Scapicchio, Fernandes’s attorney, said the ruling may lead to a new trial for her client or a new sentence that could result in Fernandes being freed.
Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Brian R. Ballou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. John R. Ellement can be reached at email@example.com. Wesley Lowery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.