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Thomas Farragher

Slim chance for 2nd chance commutation

Behind thick walls topped with shiny coils of razor wire, Ahmad Bright sits in his tiny cell at the state prison in Concord and focuses laser-like on the governor’s office on Beacon Hill.

With a brilliant morning sun slanting through the windows of the prison’s visitors’ room on Monday, he never mentioned Charlie Baker or Martha Coakley. Deval Patrick is his man.

Time is running out for Patrick. Time is running out for Ahmad Bright, too.

At age 16, Bright did something stupid. And unless he can get the outgoing governor’s attention, he may spend the rest of his young adulthood paying for it.

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“I’m just hoping that, after reviewing my petition, the governor and his team would find it appropriate to temper justice with mercy,’’ the 25-year-old Bright told me, his voice soft, his hands folded into his lap.

Before he leaves office in January, Patrick has signaled that he wants to do something that has become almost extinct across the Commonwealth’s political landscape. He wants to make it easier for some inmates to qualify for a commuted sentence.

Bright, and dozens of others, are leaping at that chance. “Slender, narrow hope,’’ Bright called it. That’s for sure.

It’s been 17 years since a Massachusetts inmate has had a sentence commuted. Terrified by the ghost of Willie Horton — the inmate who a decade before raped a woman while on a prison furlough — governors have been loath to do what Patrick is now considering.

So far there have been just two hearings before the state Advisory Board of Pardons and no decisions. Bright’s hearing request sits among a pile of others. It’s unclear whether he’ll ever get to make his case to the board.

An impressive group of teachers, counselors, family members, and coaches who knew Bright when he was an acclaimed young tennis phenom thinks the former scholarship student at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School has earned that chance.

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In 2009, Bright was convicted of the second-degree murder of 19-year-old Corey Davis, who was shot in 2006 from the back seat of a car in Cambridge. Bright contends he wasn’t there and that the testimony that led to his imprisonment was fiction. The jury heard testimony that he stood by “frozen’’ while the shots were fired. The triggerman was convicted of first-degree murder, and a third defendant, Ahmad Bright’s brother, pleaded guilty to manslaughter in the case.

In his petition for a commuted sentence, Ahmad Bright argues that his conviction rested on hearsay evidence and that the sentence imposed is the harshest possible for a juvenile convicted of murder in Massachusetts.

His pro bono attorney, Paul F. Ware Jr., the former independent counsel in the Probation Department scandal, said that the jury was never presented with evidence that Bright fired any shots that deadly night. “He was 16 years old at the time,’’ Ware said. “This kid would have graduated from Harvard by now. It’s an astonishingly sad story.’’

While in prison, Bright has taken writing classes, learned to speak Spanish and to read French and Portuguese. His discipline record is nearly spotless. He doesn’t pretend to be a candidate for sainthood. But a murderer? “That’s not who I am,’’ he said.

It’s difficult to secure mercy from politicians who know that any whiff of being soft on crime is deadly political poison. Even politicians like Patrick, whose future is unknown.

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For now, Bright just wants a chance to make his case. He’ll soon know whether that is too much to ask even from a governor about to walk out the State House door.

Thomas Farragher can be reached at thomas.
farragher@globe.com
.