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Convicted of murder as a teen, Providence man released from prison under new R.I. law

On Rhode Island Report podcast, Keith Nunes notes that most people sent to prison will return to society some day. So, he asked, “What do we want to do?”

Keith Nunes was released from prison under Mario's Law.Megan Hall
Rhode Island PBSRI PBS

PROVIDENCE — On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Keith Nunes spoke about what it was like to walk out of the Adult Correctional Institutions after spending 23 years behind bars for murdering a man when he was a teenager.

Nunes, now 41, was one of three men granted parole for crimes they committed when they were teens under “Mario’s Law,” which aims to give young offenders serving lengthy sentences a chance to show they deserve an early release on parole. Passed in 2021, the law says those sentenced before their 22nd birthday are eligible for parole after serving 20 years unless they’re serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.


“It’s so much emotion at once,” Nunes said of leaving the ACI about seven months ago. “Obviously, it was a very happy moment. But for me, someone like me, it was a very sober moment. I felt the weight of it in a lot of different ways.”

Nunes had been convicted of killing a man after an altercation on the boardwalk along South Water Street in Providence in June 1999, and he was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole.

“It’s still a sentence where they never have to let you go,” he said. “I kind of had the mind frame of: I don’t really have time to celebrate right now. I have things to do. I’ll celebrate later five years down the line when I’ve succeeded and when I’ve proven that I deserve to be here.”

Nunes said he is now studying at Roger Williams University, pursuing a community development degree, and serving as a student case manager for the Reentry Campus Program.

But he said he might end up going back to prison because the state has appealed a ruling regarding l Law.

The state Department of Corrections maintained that Nunes and two other men should remain in prison to serve shorter consecutive sentences for other convictions. The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island filed petitions for their release, accusing the Department of Corrections of undermining the purpose of Mario’s Law. A Superior Court judge ordered the release of the three men, but now the state is appealing to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.


Nunes noted the law is named for Mario Monteiro, who advocated for the legislation but remains in prison for shooting a Cambodian immigrant to death as a teen. “It was his work that brought about the law in the first place,” he said. “So it would be an ironic tragedy of the highest order if the man that did that doesn’t get the chance.”

Nunes said people must be held accountable for their actions, including him.

“People deserve to be punished for immoral acts. Absolutely,” he said. “I would never claim I didn’t deserve to be in prison. I would never claim that. If anything, I beat myself up more than the law ever could — more than a criminal justice system ever could — for my mistakes, for my wrongdoings.”

But Nunes emphasized that “the majority of individuals that get sent to prison to do a prison term are coming out, are coming back to society.”

So, he asked, “What do we want to do? Do we want to punish individuals in a way where we tell them that we do not take their circumstances into consideration that got them there in the first place — we don’t care — and punish him and send him home more upset and more angry? Or do we want to help remedy the situation?”


Nunes said more emphasis should be placed on rehabilitating those people and preparing them to return to society. “I think we’re heading in that direction,” he said. “But I would love to explore anything that gets us in the direction of focusing more on the rehabilitative aspect.”

Nunes said he knows what he wants to do with the rest of his life.

“I want to serve in whatever way I can,” he said. “I’m a firm believer that all of us as individuals have a certain combination of talents and abilities and skills that is unique to us. And I believe that that equips each person to serve in a unique way that no one else can serve.”

Nunes also spoke about his experience on “Generation Rising,” a series hosted by Kiara Butler on Rhode Island PBS, and that episode will air on Friday.

To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @FitzProv.