The Massachusetts Parole Board today approved the eventual release of a man who had been sentenced to life without parole for a murder he committed when he was a juvenile.
Frederick Christian was one of the first two men in such cases to go before the board to seek parole after the state’s highest court ruled in December that it was unconstitutional to deny a chance for parole to juveniles sentenced for first-degree murder.
In a 6-0 vote, the board said Christian, who is now 37, should be released from custody in a process that would let him gradually adjust to society.
“After careful consideration of all relevant facts, including the nature of the underlying offense, the age of the inmate at the time of the crime, criminal record, institutional record, the inmate’s testimony at the hearing, and the views of the public as expressed at the hearing or in writing, we conclude by unanimous vote that the inmate is a suitable candidate for parole,’’ the board said in a written decision released today.
Christian was 17 on May 25, 1994, when he and a friend, Russell Horton, 18, got into a car with three other men. The five drove around Brockton before Horton told the driver, Manuel Araujo, to stop at a house so that he and Christian could rip off drug dealers they thought lived there.
When Horton and Christian got back to the car, Horton told Araujo to drive to a nearby park. Without a word, he shot Araujo, his brother Carlos, and the man in the passenger seat, Kepler Desir. Carlos Araujo survived by pretending to be dead and later identified Horton as the shooter.
Christian told police he knew of the drug ripoff but did not know that Horton planned to shoot anyone. Horton and Christian were convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The parole board noted that Christian, among other things, had become a Muslim, which he credited with advancing his rehabilitation; had earned his GED; had gone to AA/NA meetings; had been involved in the Garden Program, in which inmates grow vegetables and give them away; had been involved an Alternatives to Violence program; and had distanced himself from people who he said were “not doing the right things.”
When a board member asked Christian why he got involved in programs even though -- until the December court ruling -- he had no chance of benefiting, he said, “I had hope. I never gave up hope. That was one of the reasons I tried to better myself. You have to apply yourself if you want change.”
Plymouth District Attorney Timothy Cruz and Carlos Araujo, the surviving victim, testified in opposition to his bid for parole, along with the girlfriend of Kepler Desir, who said losing him continued to be a burden for her and her children, the decision said.
But the board said today it had found that Christian was a suitable candidate who would likely not break any laws and whose release was not incompatible with the welfare of society.
The board’s decision said Christian, who was asking to go live with his parents in Tennessee, would first have to finish an eight-week motivational enhancement program, which the board said focused on preparing inmates for “future success,” then serve one year in lower levels of security before being released.
In a final step, Christian will serve in “a pre-release program that allows him to work in the community during daytime hours,” the board said.
Life sentences without any possibility of parole are constitutional for adults. But in 2012, the US Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to impose automatic life sentences without parole for juveniles, largely because of growing scientific evidence that young brains are not as equipped as adult brains to control violent impulses and understand the consequences of rash behavior.
Then the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court issued its own ruling in December 2013 that went even further. It said, automatic or not, life sentences without parole for juveniles were not allowed in Massachusetts. The ruling applied retroactively
The decision was a reversal for Massachusetts, where juvenile murderers had faced some of the harshest laws in the nation.
A total of 65 one-time teen killers may have their cases examined by the parole board in coming months and years.
Christian and another man who was also convicted of committing murder as a juvenile, Joseph Donovan, appeared before the parole board last week.