A 53-year-old inmate who has spent nearly four decades in prison for fatally bludgeoning a homeless man and lighting him on fire in Gloucester in 1982 recently won his freedom and is scheduled to be released to a halfway house in December, according to Parole Board records.
The admitted killer, John Jones, who was 17 during the brutal slaying of 47-year-old Donald Pinkham, was granted release in a Parole Board decision dated April 29, records show. Four board members voted to free him, and two voted to keep him locked up pending another review in two years.
Pinkham was killed in the early morning hours of Oct. 1, 1982, according to the ruling.
Jones and a younger co-defendant targeted Pinkham to rob a check he had recently received, according to the ruling. Pinkham was killed in an area known as “Dead Man’s Path,” and investigators determined he had been struck in the head with rocks and set ablaze, the ruling said.
“When Mr. Pinkham was discovered, his body was badly burned and bruised, his head was crushed, and part of his face was missing,” the document said.
Jones’s codefendant, a 16-year-old at the time of the killing who wasn’t named in the ruling, was convicted of first-degree murder and committed to the Department of Youth Services until his 18th birthday, records show. After being tried as an adult, Jones was also convicted of first-degree murder and initially sentenced to life without parole.
But he was among the so-called “lifer” inmates imprisoned for crimes they committed as teens who in 2013 won the opportunity to seek parole, following legislative changes and court rulings.
Jones was denied parole in 2015.
But the April 29 decision granting him parole noted that he took responsibility during his second hearing before the board in December 2018.
Jones said he was “fully responsible for the violence inflicted” on Pinkham, whom he learned after the murder was his second cousin, the ruling said. Jones added that he drank alcohol and took pills before the killing and often witnessed and experienced domestic violence at home.
“Mr. Jones explained that ... he agreed to commit the crimes against Mr. Pinkham with his co-defendant, in part, because he dreaded returning home,” the ruling said. “He told the Board that he was a rage-filled young man who did not care about anyone, including himself.”
But things have changed since Jones began doing his time, he maintained.
Jones said he’s enrolled in a number of rehabilitative programs while incarcerated, stayed out of trouble since getting sober in 1993, and developed a solid work ethic on a prison paint crew, records show.
The ruling said he would be paroled to a long-term residential program after a year in lower security from the date of the December 2018 hearing, with a number of conditions.