Monday’s 5-4 Supreme Court decision disallowing mandatory life sentences without parole for defendants convicted of murder perpetrated before their 18th birthday moves us significantly closer to a rational system for punishing young offenders. It provides hope for hundreds of prisoners around the country, including more than 60 in Massachusetts, who until now saw no chance of ever walking free.
Massachusetts is one of 28 states impacted by the Court’s decision in not considering mitigating factors and special circumstances that might warrant parole eligibility. Belying the undeserved reputation for being soft on crime, the Commonwealth arguably has the nation’s stiffest sanction for juvenile murder. Anyone as young as 14 charged with murder is automatically tried as an adult, and if convicted of first degree murder, receives a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
The decision potentially opens the cell door someday for a prisoner like Joe Donovan, Jr., who was given a life sentence for his part in a mugging two decades ago during which an accomplice fatally stabbed the victim. The decision also could affect someone like Kentel Weaver who received an automatic life sentence for his involvement in a murderous joint venture, despite the fact that he voluntarily came forward and confessed to the police his role in the unsolved crime.
The ruling provides flexibility for exceptional cases like John Odgren, a developmentally challenged youngster who stabbed a schoolmate to death at Lincoln-Sudbury High. Upon condemning Odgren to his lifelong fate, the trial judge went on record bemoaning the lack of any alternative option for handling his special circumstances.FULL ENTRY
For many of us baby boomers and our surviving parents, AMC's Mad Men has served to refresh lots of memories, some pleasant and others painful, about the early 1960s ... where we were and what we were doing at the time.
Today's 50th anniversary of the first Boston Strangler attack, when 55-year-old Anna Slesers was found molested and murdered inside her 3rd floor apartment at 77 Gainsborough St., should bring back, for those of us who were living here then, some distressing recollections of the panic that enveloped the city and the suburbs for years to come.
I was 11 years old when the Boston Strangler first struck. Although the case predates the term "serial murder" by more than two decades, this was the nation’s first major crime of its kind - one of Boston’s more ignominious firsts. Sure, there were short-lived spree killings prior to 1962, such as the string of murders committed by Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate in the Midwest, and repeat gunslingers like Bonnie and Clyde. There were modestly infamous “black widows/widowers” and a variety of hideous sexual sadists. But the Boston Strangler case broke new ground in terms of multiple murder and its investigation, becoming a forerunner of the likes of Theodore Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer and too many other villains.FULL ENTRY
There is good news on the national crime front...or so it seems at first glance.
As is usual practice, the FBI released today its preliminary tabulations of crime statistics for 2011, and the short-term trend seems rather encouraging. Although the final figures will not be available until the Fall, the incidence of serious violent and property crime continues its downward slide.
According to the FBI analysis (see figure below), violent crime was down 6.4% in 2011 over 2010, including a 1.9% decline in murder. The homicide drop would mean that nearly 280 fewer Americans were murdered last year as compared to the year before. A homicide death toll of about 14,500 would be the lowest since Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States.
As for property crime, the figures are not nearly as rosy, showing a drop of less than 1 percent for the year. But, of course, that could be considered quite an achievement given the troubled economy, not to mention consequent budget cuts for crime prevention and crime control.
While I hate to be a killjoy, but there is much more a mixed bag in terms of what these trends really indicate. Year-to-year changes are notoriously volatile, especially for lesser volume crimes like murder. They must be viewed with caution, avoiding the temptation to make too much out of rather little.
The positive impact of the “Play Ball” initiative on the scholastic performance of youngsters in Boston’s middle schools (see Globe story) is stunning, but hardly surprising. For too many years, we have over-emphasized standardized test scores -- treating them as the gold standard, if not the only standard, for assessing quality in education -- at the expense of other areas of physical, emotional and intellectual development.
While no one will deny the supreme importance of the basic subjects -- English, math and science. But a focus on test scores over all else places academically marginal students at-risk to skip school and ultimately leave school altogether. And the effects on truancy and drop-out on delinquency are obvious.
The results of “Play Ball” clearly demonstrate the many lessons that athletic participation can offer concerning cooperation and responsibility to a group. Youngsters who are constantly challenged and frustrated by traditional academics can derive both enjoyment and a sense of self-worth on the athletic field, giving them a reason to get up and out to school in the morning.
But let’s not forget the other extra-curricular areas -- for example, art, drama, and music. We need violins in schools (as opposed to violence). These pursuits can also be of great value for youngsters who struggle athletically and are seeking an alternative niche, purpose and direction. The “back to basics” movement has assigned these subjects second-tier status; when trimming budgets they are often viewed as expendable frills.