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Man convicted of murder as a teen again seeks freedom

Rod Matthews, 43, spoke at his parole hearing Tuesday in Natick. Matthews, 15 when he was convicted of killing Shaun Ouillette with a baseball bat, is making his third bid for parole.
Rod Matthews, 43, spoke at his parole hearing Tuesday in Natick. Matthews, 15 when he was convicted of killing Shaun Ouillette with a baseball bat, is making his third bid for parole.Art Illman/Pool/Pool

NATICK — Rod Matthews broke down crying three times Tuesday as he described to the state Parole Board how at the age of 14 he used a baseball bat to fatally bludgeon a high school classmate in the woods of Canton.

The victim’s mother, Jeanne Quinn, said she did not trust the tears shed by the man who killed her son, Shaun Ouillette.

“I don’t believe a leopard can change his spots,” Quinn said after Matthews’s hearing, which lasted nearly four hours. “The first time he gets the urge . . . he’s going to kill again.”

Tuesday’s appearance marked the third time Matthews, 43, had come before the Parole Board to ask that his life sentence be curtailed for murdering the 14-year-old Ouillette on Nov. 20, 1986.

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He was among the first juveniles in Massachusetts to be tried as an adult for murder.

The teen’s body was found three weeks after the killing. Before the discovery, Matthews said he had twice taken friends to see the body.

Quinn said she has forgiven Matthews. She does not support his release.

“He is forgiven . . . for the sake of my own survival,” she said. “For the sake of my being able to find my way back from the hate and the rage that I’ve had.”

In 1988, a jury convicted Matthews, then 15, as an adult of second-degree murder. He received the mandatory life sentence with the possibility of parole.

Nearly three decades after his arrest, a bald Matthews said he understands why he murdered Ouillette and promised never to hurt anyone again. He said he was “deeply sorry for taking Shaun’s life.”

“My stomach turns in anguish how I took another person’s life,” Matthews said. “I wish it was my life taken rather than Shaun’s.”

In explaining his reasons for killing Ouillette, Matthews said he had been an emotionally stunted teenager who did not recognize he was isolated from the world.

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He also said he grew up in a dysfunctional household that his father abandoned because he was unfaithful.

Some of the most publicized comments Matthews has made about the killing were addressed by the Parole Board. He murdered Ouillette, Matthews has said, because he wanted to know what it felt like to take a life. And he believed the teen would not be missed, Matthews has said.

Matthews acknowledged the statements, but insisted he has changed.

At trial, the defense said Matthews suffered from mental illness aggravated by use of the drug Ritalin. Matthews told the Parole Board on Tuesday that he now rejects those explanations.

Forensic psychologist Robert Kinscherff, who evaluated Matthews, said Matthews does not have a major mental illness and “would be able to live without violating the law.”

Kinscherff said he took no position on how long Matthews should be imprisoned for killing Ouillette.

James Alan Fox, a Northeastern University criminologist, highlighted Supreme Court cases that have found youthful killers should be treated differently because their brains are not fully developed and because they remain vulnerable to peer pressure.

Fox also noted that the court has cited findings showing young defendants are more likely to benefit from treatment.

“He’s matured. He’s changed,” Fox said. “I think at this point in time he does deserve a second chance.”

Quinn and Ouillette’s sister and brother joined Canton Police Chief Kenneth Berkowitz and the Norfolk district attorney’s office in opposing Matthews’s parole request.

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Assistant District Attorney Marguerite T. Grant said Matthews is a predator and manipulator who has convinced family members to lie on his behalf and contact a witness in the case.

Ouillette’s sister, Yvonne, lives out of state and appeared before the board via video. Quinn, the mother of Shaun and Yvonne, said her daughter moved away because she fears for her safety.

Another sibling, Matthew Ouillette, said he was 7 years old when his brother was killed and possesses few memories of him. In an e-mail, he said he decided to testify after one member of the Parole Board voted to release Matthews in 2007 — a vote in which five dissenting members prevailed and Matthews remained imprisoned.

When he first learned his brother died, Matthew Ouillette thought a bear must have attacked him, he said.

“The only thing that made sense to me was that my brother was killed by wild animals,” he said.

The Parole Board is expected to render a decision in several weeks.


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.