Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

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July 17, 2014

Deal reached on parole in juvenile murder cases

House and Senate negotiators reached a deal Tuesday on sentencing reforms for juvenile murderers to establish a three-tiered system for parole eligibility after state and federal courts struck down life sentences without parole as unconstitutional.

A six-member panel filed a compromise bill (H 4307) on Tuesday afternoon that would make juveniles — aged 14 to 17 —convicted of first-degree murder eligible for parole after serving 20 to 30 years of their life sentence in prison.

In cases involving premeditation, juveniles would face 25 years to 30 years in prison before becoming parole eligible or a minimum of 30 years in murders with “extreme atrocity or cruelty.”

“It reflects a compromise and the diversity of views in both bodies and I think it’s a reasonable place to be,” said Sen. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat and Senate chair of the Judiciary Committee, who led negotiations for the Senate.

The bill represents a blending of the approaches taken separately by the House and Senate, adopting Senate-backed sentencing guidelines for first-degree murder and especially horrific slayings and incorporating the House’s preference for creating a separate category for premeditated murder.

The conference committee elected not to include changes to the amount of time a convicted murderer would have to wait between parole hearings if they are denied early release, leaving the five-year waiting period untouched.

“I think it’s the right outcome on the setback,” said Brownsberger, who originally proposed a 10-year waiting period before it was changed during debate in the Senate.

The conference committee’s recommendations, which are not subject to amendment, will go first to the House. Both branches had formal sessions scheduled for Wednesday this week.

“I expect it will be moved along quickly given all the things we need to do,” Brownsberger said.

All six lawmakers on the conference committee signed off on the compromise. The committee also included Reps. Garrett Bradley (D-Hingham), Christopher Markey (D-Dartmouth) and Bradford Hill (R-Ipswich) and Sens. Jennifer Flanagan (D-Leominster) and Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester).

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