The state Parole Board has for the second time agreed to release a 36-year-old man convicted of a murder committed as a juvenile, cheering advocates of shorter sentences but dismaying prosecutors and the victim’s family.
Anthony Rolon, who was 17 when he stabbed a 20-year-old man to death in 1996, should be released after spending one year in a lower security prison, the board said Wednesday in a 6-0 decision. Members said they were impressed with his good conduct in prison, the programs he joined as an inmate, and the remorse he showed for the slaying of Robert Botelho Jr. in New Bedford.
“Rolon was thoughtful, sincere, and knowledgeable in describing the programs he has taken, the lessons he has learned, and the changes he has made,” board chairman Josh Wall wrote. “He was remarkably insightful, candid, remorseful, humble, and committed to improving his character and conduct.”
The board has heard from four of the 65 inmates affected by a Supreme Judicial Court decision in December that stated it is unconstitutional to automatically sentence to life without parole defendants convicted of crimes they committed as juveniles. That decision was based largely on the growing scientific evidence that juveniles are less likely to consider consequences than adults.
In June, the board voted to release Frederick Christian, who was 17 when he was arrested for his role in the killing of three men.
“I think this is a very important decision because it demonstrates that the board, as they said in their decision, has an understanding that conduct is affected by the underdeveloped thought process and decision making ability of a juvenile,” said Patty Garin, a Boston defense lawyer who runs a clinic at Northeastern University Law School where students act as counsel for inmates. “I hope that this is a sign of good things to come.”
Emanuel Howard, Rolon’s lawyer, said he spoke to his client by phone Wednesday afternoon.
“He was very elated,” Howard said. “Anthony Rolon will never stop improving. He will never stop learning. He will earn the respect of his neighbors. He will earn the respect of society.”
But Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter, who attended Rolon’s July 22 hearing and whose office opposed parole, called it the “wrong decision.”
“How could this parole board let this defendant go after the vicious attack he instigated on Robert Botelho?” Sutter said in a statement.
He said Botehlo’s parents, who also asked the board not to release Rolon, told him they were devastated by the decision.
“To have a situation where they believed they had received some measure of justice and closure, and then this takes place, must be so painful,” Sutter said.
On Jan. 20, 1996, Botelho, his girlfriend, and a group of their friends went to a party at a housing project in New Bedford, where they ran into Rolon and his friends. A fight broke out at the party, where Botelho waved a pistol at Rolon that appeared real but couldn’t fire.
Rolon and his friends followed them back to Botelho’s girlfriend’s apartment. Armed with knives, bats, and hammers they began smashing the windows. When Botelho ran outside, Rolon and another man caught up with him. Botelho fought back but he was not armed and Rolon stabbed him at least three times, once in the heart.
During his parole hearing, Rolon told Botelho’s mother, Kathleen, who was present, that her son’s death was entirely his fault.
“It was me who killed your son,” he said. “It was me who created the confrontation that cause the fight. If I had just walked away . . . he would be alive today.”
During his first years in prison, Rolon was cited for serious violations, including possession of a seven-inch knife made out of Plexiglass and fighting with another inmate.
In May 2003, Rolon was placed in solitary confinement, a punishment that he said sparked his rehabilitation.
“While I was in the hole, I got on my knees and genuinely prayed to God for the first time,” he said. “I asked for forgiveness and guidance.”
Rolon enrolled in several rehabilitative and education programs, including those geared toward violence prevention, and he took jobs in the prison gym, kitchen, and barbershop.
Most recently, he has worked as a janitor at Bridgewater State Hospital.
He told the board his fiancee has five children, which compelled him to take a parenting program. Rolon said if he were freed he would be a barber.
“My passion is to cut hair,” he said. “I really enjoy it.”
In addition to his program participation, the board cited as factors in the decision: Rolon’s age at the time of the crime; his 18 years of incarceration; and his troubled upbringing — his father was a drug dealer and his mother was addicted to crack cocaine.
The board also took into account the context around Botelho’s killing; he had been assaulted with a gun before the killing and was urged by his friends to take action.
Wrote Wall: “These four factors allowed the board to conclude that the sentencing goals of punishment and deterrence have been met.”