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‘Is he rehabilitated? In my opinion, absolutely not,’ psychiatrist says of triple murderer

Triple-murderer Daniel LaPlante listened to his lawyer, Ryan Schiff, in Middlesex Superior Court in Woburn Wednesday. John Love/POOL/POOL

WOBURN — Daniel J. LaPlante has shed tears over murdering a pregnant woman and her two children in Townsend nearly 30 years ago, but not everyone believes he is truly sorrowful.

“All of this was just a presentation to come across as somebody who is sad about something for which in my opinion, he was not sad,” said Dr. Fabian Saleh, a forensic psychiatrist who witnessed LaPlante cry over the killings during an interview last summer. “It was an execution. He executed one person, went and executed a second person, and then ended up executing a third person.”

Saleh gave a vivid account Wednesday of LaPlante’s memories of the 1987 murders of Priscilla Gustafson, her 7-year-old daughter, Abigail, and son, William, 5, during a hearing in Middlesex Superior Court to determine whether to reduce his punishment.


LaPlante, who was 17 when he committed the killings, is serving three consecutive life sentences, but is now eligible for parole because of court rulings that found young offenders should be given a chance at freedom because the juvenile brain isn’t fully developed.

He wants Superior Court Judge Hélène Kazanjian to impose concurrent terms for two of the life sentences, a punishment that would make him eligible for parole as early as this year.

At Wednesday’s hearing, LaPlante, who is now bald and wears glasses, apologized for the killings while standing with his back to relatives of Gustafson and her children.

“I murdered three innocent people,” he said. “I do not have the words to fully express my profound sorrow, but I am truly sorry for the harm that I have caused.”

If successful, LaPlante wouldn’t seek a parole hearing immediately, his lawyer said, because he wants to complete a three-year program at the Massachusetts Treatment Center in Bridgewater. LaPlante chose to transfer into the prison for sex offenders last year, said defense attorney Ryan M. Schiff.


Prosecutors want LaPlante to be sentenced to three consecutive life sentences, which would make him eligible for parole after serving 45 years in prison or 15 years for each murder. Under a 2013 decision by the state Supreme Judicial Court, many inmates who committed murder when they were juveniles were granted a shot at release after serving 15 years.

Kazanjian said she plans to announce her decision Thursday.

Testifying for the prosecution Wednesday, Saleh said LaPlante’s age and brain development had no bearing on his role in the attacks in which he raped Gustafson, 33, in front of her son and then fatally shot her with a stolen gun. The children were drowned in separate bathtubs, according to court testimony.

A family photo shows Andrew Gustafson, son William and daughter Abigail, and Priscilla Gustafson.Laura Crimaldi/Globe Staff

At the time of the killings, LaPlante suffered from a conduct disorder, Saleh said, describing how he claimed to worship Satan and was said to have tortured animals as a youth.

LaPlante now has an antisocial personality disorder and has not shown any true remorse for what he did or demonstrated empathy for his victims or their families, Saleh said.

“Is he rehabilitated? In my opinion, absolutely not,” he said.

Relatives of Gustafson oppose LaPlante's request to reduce his sentence, though one showed him mercy during his remarks in court.

Gustafson’s brother, the Rev. William Morgan Jr., said he forgave LaPlante but wants him to remain locked up.

“I do not believe that Daniel LaPlante is repentant of his crimes,” he said. “I believe that he will always be a danger to society and to our children. In my opinion, under no circumstance should Daniel LaPlante be set free.”


Gustafson’s relatives were joined in court by former state attorney general Thomas F. Reilly, who prosecuted LaPlante and wants him to remain in prison.

Gustafson’s sister, Christine, questioned whose life isn’t “worthy of 15 years?”

“Is it [Priscilla’s]? Is it Abby’s? Or is it little Billy’s,” she asked during the hearing.

Schiff, the defense attorney, said LaPlante should be granted an opportunity to seek parole while he is still young enough to lead a meaningful life. Under the sentence sought by prosecutors, LaPlante, who is 46, couldn’t seek parole until he turns 62, he said.

Daniel LaPlante sat in the Concord State Police barracks on Dec. 3, 1987.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File 1987

“No matter what sentence is imposed, Mr. LaPlante may die in prison,” Schiff said. “All that we ask is that he be given a chance to make his case to the parole board before he’s 62 years old.”

He said Kazanjian should reject Saleh’s assessment that LaPlante’s expressions of remorse are insincere, citing the psychiatrist’s testimony that there is no psychological testing to assess emotions.

Court papers say LaPlante was subjected to “extreme psychological abuse” by his father, sexually abused by a psychiatrist, and struggled with dyslexia and hyperactivity disorder.

LaPlante is capable of making positive changes that courts have highlighted in rulings that found juveniles shouldn’t be subjected to lifelong imprisonment, Schiff said. He also listed some of LaPlante’s accomplishments in prison, like earning his high school equivalency diploma, tutoring other inmates, assuming leadership roles in prison groups, and completing college-level courses.


After the hearing, Gustafson’s sisters, Elizabeth Williams and Christine Morgan, said LaPlante didn’t appear to show emotion and that his remarks seemed rehearsed.

“He’s the antithesis of good,” Williams said.

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