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Remy joins small group of killers sentenced to life in prison without trial

Jared Remy walked into Middlesex Superior Court.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff

Jared Remy walked into Middlesex Superior Court.

Jared Remy joined a small group of Massachusetts killers Tuesday who have taken the unusual step of volunteering to die behind prison walls, rather than challenge accusations against them.

Remy, 35, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn, admitting that he brutally stabbed his girlfriend, Jennifer Martel, to death in their Waltham apartment while their daughter, then 4, screamed with terror.

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Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman sentenced Remy to the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, making him one of just a handful of convicts — all of them are men — who have chosen to spends years, if not decades, in prison.

“There was no advantage to the plea’’ for Remy, said Boston attorney Bernard Grossberg, who represented Michael Kelley in 1994 when he admitted to first-degree murder charges in the killing of two women in Plymouth County. “It’s the defendant’s decision. No one else can enter a guilty plea, especially to something with a life-without-parole sentence.’’

Grossberg, who said he considers Remy’s crime a repugnant act of domestic violence, added: “He did the right thing for some people. . . . He spared his family and the Martels and his daughter the heartache that would have come out of the trial.’’

Grossberg said that notion, of sparing the families more pain, led Kelley to ignore Grossberg’s legal advice and accept a sentence of two life terms without the possibility of parole. He said that Kelley’s father-in-law, who played a big role in Kelley’s life, was the person who prodded the convicted rapist to admit his guilt.

In October 2012, Thomas Mortimer IV appeared in the same courthouse as Remy and admitted to killing his wife, their two young children, and his mother-in-law in the family’s Winchester home in 2010.

Gerard T. Leone Jr., who was the Middlesex district attorney at the time, said prosecutors are often eager to put their cases to trial, but they also should consider how much harm a victim’s family might face.

“You’re not having to put the family and loved ones through graphic testimony, through essentially having to relive the murder again and having to go through a painful process of cross-examination and the defendant having to scrutinize the government’s case,’’ said Leone, now a lawyer with the firm Nixon Peabody.

From the defendant’s perspective, the issue may be the reality that confronted both Remy and Mortimer: The evidence against them was overwhelming, and the likelihood that a jury would find them guilty of a lesser charge such as second-degree murder was remote at best.

“The age-old question is why would anyone plead guilty to killing somebody, and the answer is they did it,’’ said Leone, adding that “they have resigned to the virtual certainty that they will be found guilty, so they don’t want to go through the exercise of the trial.”

The plea means that there is nothing to be reviewed by an appellate court, especially when a judge is careful, as Tuttman was, to establish on the record that the plea was the product of a sound mind, the attorneys said.

In addition to Remy, Kelley, and Mortimer, Gary Gomes in 2012 admitted to murdering his girlfriend, Robyn Mendes, in New Bedford in 2009 and to stabbing his mother to death in the same crime. He is serving life without parole.

In 1965, Rocco Balliro pleaded guilty to two counts of first-degree murder in 1965 for the death of his girlfriend, Toby Wagner, and her 2-year-old child, who were killed during a shootout with Boston police. Balliro has since tried to convince judges that he was given bad legal advice, but the courts have left his plea intact and Balliro behind bars.

According to attorneys, the only way they envision Remy being freed is if at some time in the distant future, a political leader decides to commute his sentence.

Even then, the Governor’s Council would have to give its stamp of approval, and the Parole Board would have to grant Remy’s release.

Stephen J. Weymouth, a Boston defense attorney, said the brutality of the crime that Remy admitted committing makes any release appear extremely unlikely. “I don’t ever see that,’’ Weymouth said.

Since Deval Patrick became governor in January 2007, his office has received 270 requests for commutation of sentences and 335 requests that he pardon someone convicted of a crime.

According to a spokesman, Patrick has not approved a single one.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
globe.com
. Follow him on Twitter @miltonvalencia. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.
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