SALEM, Mass. — Prosecutors in Essex County, north of Boston, are preparing for parole hearings for nine convicted killers whose life sentences without parole were wiped away by the state’s highest court on Tuesday.
The nine, who were all teenagers under the age of 18 at the time of the murders, were made eligible for parole in the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision. Two others, convicted since 2007, will also someday get a chance at parole.
Now, decades after families of victims were reassured that their loved ones’ killers would never see the outside of a prison, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett’s office is facing the prospect of tracking down those relatives to give them the news.
"Massachusetts prides itself on being enlightened on victims’ rights,” a clearly frustrated Blodgett said yesterday. “And yet this decision comes out on Christmas Eve day? That’s a pretty tough, bitter pill to swallow for victims’ families who thought that these cases had been put to rest.”
Going forward, the decision also affects sentencing options for Philip Chism, the 14-year-old Danvers boy charged with the murder of teacher Colleen Ritzer, 24, in a case that made national headlines in October.
Chism is accused of attacking and robbing Ritzer in a second-floor bathroom at Danvers High on the afternoon of Oct. 22, then wheeling her in a recycling bin to a wooded area nearby, where he raped her and left her partly naked under a pile of leaves and debris, according to court papers. Police found a note next to her body that read, "I hate you all."
Chism pleaded not guilty earlier this month and is awaiting trial.
The court’s ruling last week in the case of Gregory Diatchenko, who was 17 when he stabbed a man as he sat in a car in Boston’s Kenmore Square in 1981, held that sentences of life without parole failed to take into account a young defendant’s likelihood of being rehabilitated.