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Lawmakers reach deal on parole for juvenile killers

State lawmakers reached agreement Tuesday on compromise legislation that would establish parole eligibility for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder.

Juveniles convicted of premeditated murder could be granted parole after 25 to 30 years, while those found guilty of murder with extreme atrocity or cruelty would be eligible after 30 years, under the compromise reached by a conference committee representing both branches of the state Legislature.

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Youths convicted as juveniles of felony murder — those who set out to commit rape, robbery, or other crimes and kill someone in the process — would be eligible for parole after 20 to 30 years.

The changes would affect juveniles who committed murder between their 14th and 18th birthdays.

Senator William Brownsberger, Senate cochairman of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary, led negotiations for the Senate.

Brownsberger said the House and Senate versions of the bill were not far apart when negotiators came to the table.

“They both had 20- to 30-year ranges; we had just carved those ranges up differently,” he said.

Brownsberger said the compromise bill drops language, included in the House version, that would have allowed the Parole Board to set wait times of up to 10 years between hearings for prisoners refused parole.

Instead, the bill maintains current law, which allows the board to set times of no more than five years between parole hearings, Brownsberger said.

He said the 10-year maximum had been proposed out of sensitivity to victims’ families and a desire not to subject them to unnecessary hearings, but some legislators feared the long waiting period could be overused.

The bill comes in response to rulings in the highest courts at both the federal and state level.

In 2012, the US Supreme Court declared mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional. The decision cited new science showing a teenager’s brain is “not fully developed.”

In response, the state’s Supreme Judicial Court last December eliminated sentences of life without parole for juveniles, applying the ruling retroactively so that even past cases are affected.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Senate minority leader Bruce Tarr, a Republican from Gloucester, and Senator Barry Finegold, an Andover Democrat, proposed legislation in January that would have required juvenile murderers to serve at least 35 years.

In May, at least a dozen relatives of people murdered by teenagers testified in support of that bill, but last month, the House by a wide margin passed a bill that would make juveniles convicted of first-degree murder eligible for parole after serving between 20 and 30 years.

Earlier this month, the Senate approved its own version of the measure.

The compromise bill also includes language requiring that the Parole Board include a forensic psychologist and calling for greater access to substance abuse treatment, educational programs, and other rehabilitative services, Brownsberger said.

The compromise is expected to come before the Legislature for final passage in the next few days, Brownsberger said.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Michael Levenson can be reached at michael.levenson@globe.com.

 Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story included incorrect information about the Parole Board’s makeup. The board currently includes a forensic psychologist, and lawmakers’ compromise legislation would ensure that continues in the future.

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