The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have recently ruled that automatic life sentences without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional. In 1992, a Massachusetts 17 year old was sentenced to life in prison without parole after he was convicted of murdering an MIT student. At 38, Joe Donovan is the first inmate to go before the parole board since the ruling.
Here’s what happened in 1992: Donovan punched MIT student Yngve Raustein, setting off an altercation, during which another person stabbed and killed Raustein. The killer, a friend of Donovan’s, was 15 at the time, so he was charged as juvenile and is now out of prison. But Donovan, who turned 17 a few weeks before the crime, was tried as an adult. He has served 21 years behind bars.
“I was such a stupid kid,” Donovan told the parole board Thursday.
Donovan told the parole board that he was impulsive and susceptible to peer pressure but he has changed. His lawyer Ingrid Martin argued that his sentence doesn’t fit the crime .
“My client has served enough time for the crime he committed,” she told the board.
The victim’s family was not at the hearing, but they sent a letter to board asking for Donovan’s release.
The parole board grilled Donovan for four hours, in part about his disciplinary record behind bars, which includes attacks against officers and inmates and led to seven years in solitary confinement.
There are 65 inmates currently serving mandatory life sentences for crimes they committed before their 18th birthdays. The legal community considers Donovan a test case. And is closely watching to see if the parole board will release him.