Thirty years after Angela Jefferson was found guilty of first-degree murder for fatally stabbing her boyfriend and sentenced to life in prison, Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins is considering her lawyer’s request to support a motion to reduce her sentence and set her free.
On Monday, after Jefferson’s relatives and supporters rallied outside Rollins’s office in support of her release, the district attorney released a statement that her integrity review bureau “is actively and thoroughly reviewing her case at this time.”
Jefferson, now 51, was 20 in June 1990 when she confronted her boyfriend, 21-year-old Anthony Deas, at the Dorchester home of another woman and stabbed him in the chest, according to court records. The single mother of three was convicted 16 months later and received a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In May, Jefferson’s lawyer, Eva Jellison, filed a motion in Suffolk Superior Court asserting that Jefferson did not receive a fair trial and urged a judge to order a new trial or reduce her conviction to manslaughter, which would allow her to go free. She argued that jurors received “an inaccurate and incomplete version” of Jefferson’s mental state when she killed Deas, based on a combination of factors, including errors by her trial lawyer and remarks by the prosecutor in closing arguments.
“The confluence of circumstances also clothed Ms. Jefferson in racist and sexist stereotypes and tropes that dehumanized her, invited the all-white jury to focus on irrelevant and biased character judgments, and disregarded her mental state where it was completely relevant to the issues to be tried,” Jellison wrote in her motion. Jefferson is Black.
At Monday’s rally, Jellison said the slaying was Jefferson’s first contact with the criminal justice system and the motion “is about correcting an error and providing what we see as justice. She is a wonderful woman who has meant so much to other women in prison.”
Shanita Jefferson, 33, who was 3 when her mother went to prison and lost her father a couple of months later when he was murdered in Brockton, said “everybody deserves a second chance.”
“I always say she didn’t even get a first chance,” she said. “She made one mistake that ruined her life. And there was no consideration of who she truly was.”
She said her mother helped raise her and her brothers from behind bars and has spent decades working to get an education and as a mentor to inmates at the women’s state prison in Framingham. She said she’s hopeful that community support for her mother’s release will persuade Rollins to urge a judge to vacate her life sentence.
“I share the sense of urgency held by supporters of Ms. Jefferson and others seeking to correct injustices of the past,” Rollins said. A detailed review of her case “is vital to the process of uncovering the truth, and we cannot afford to sacrifice the accuracy and integrity of these efforts. Mr. Deas and his family deserve as much. I am committed to getting it right in every case. Doing so takes time.”
One of Deas’s brothers, Ron, declined to comment Monday. Another brother, Cullen, said it was the first he had heard of Jefferson’s motion and that he was hanging up to call Rollins’s office.
Jefferson’s motion is one of more than 80 such requests received by her integrity review board, Rollins said. They often require staff to re-interview witnesses, review evidence, and analyze legal claims and forensic evidence.
“We absolutely understand that defendants are harmed when unethical and unconstitutional actions result in convictions,” she said. “We want to also make it clear that the survivors of homicide — the loved ones and family of homicide victims — can be deeply impacted and retraumatized as well during these legal proceedings. Every family is offered the opportunity to meet with me personally. I never lose sight of the fact that a person was violently taken from this world, and their loved ones still feel the pain of that loss no matter how much time has passed. And that the decision I make has the potential to significantly disrupt their lives again.”
Rollins has been nominated to become US attorney for Massachusetts, but in late September, the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked over her confirmation, requiring an additional vote by the full Senate.
The Massachusetts Parole Board has denied Jefferson’s petition for a commutation.
In a letter to the board in 2019, Jefferson expressed deep remorse for killing Deas. At the time, she was in an unhealthy relationship that often escalated to physical abuse and should have reached out for help as a battered woman, she wrote.
“Growing up, my life was far from perfect, although the last thing I want to do is blame my past for the fact that I took Anthony’s life — because there is no excuse for what I did,” Jefferson wrote, adding that she was sorry for the pain she has caused his family. “I am asking if you can please find some way to forgive me, and to think about giving me a second chance.”