By Julie Manganis
---- — DANVERS — Dawn Santino was busy celebrating the holidays and wasn’t paying attention to the news when, on Christmas Eve, the state’s highest court issued a ruling that has reopened the heartache from her sister’s murder 21 years ago.
Beth Brodie was 16 when she was beaten to death in her Groveland home with a baseball bat wielded by Richard Baldwin, 16, of Peabody. Baldwin, a former classmate, was angry that the pretty, popular cheerleader at Pentucket Regional High School wouldn’t go out with him again.
After a hearing, Baldwin was tried as an adult, convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole. Santino and her family believed he would never see the outside of a prison again.
Then, last weekend, she learned about the Supreme Judicial Court decision finding that life sentences without parole for killers under 18 are unconstitutional because they fail to take into account the potential for young offenders to be rehabilitated.
“I was very angry,” said Santino, of Raymond, N.H. “We thought that he would be put away forever.”
Now she faces the prospect of attending parole hearings again and again. “I didn’t think this would be a step my family would have to take,” she said. “We thought it was a done deal.”
Family members of Colleen Ritzer, the 24-year-old Danvers High School teacher killed in October, allegedly by 14-year-old student Philip Chism, are also criticizing the SJC’s decision.
In a statement released yesterday through their lawyers, the Ritzers say they feel “a deep sense of betrayal and anguish” over the decision, which “provides more rights to those youths convicted of horrible and heinous crimes than victims and their families.”
“Our daughter and sister Colleen was taken in a cruel manner; we are now forced to endure a tremendous loss for life while her likely attacker will be afforded the opportunity for parole if convicted,” the family said in their statement. “There will never be ‘parole’ for our family’s life sentence without Colleen.”
“This decision should not be applauded, rather overturned as an act of justice and humanity to victims of violent crimes and their families,” said the Ritzer family.
Santino, Brodie’s sister, shares that view, saying that Gov. Deval Patrick’s public praise for the ruling, while failing to address the anguish of victims’ families, was troubling.
She and other family and friends have launched a campaign, using social media and online petitions, in hopes of convincing the Parole Board not to grant release to Baldwin.
“We’re just getting the word out to people to let them know this is happening, so that we can get the support we need,” Santino said. “I don’t even know if we can stop this. I don’t know what we can do. We just want to get people to know this is happening.”
They have set up a Facebook page called “Justice for Beth Brodie,” which has already garnered more than 1,600 “likes,” and have also created a petition at the website causes.com addressed to the governor and urging authorities not to parole Baldwin.
Santino said she’s hoping people will write letters that can be submitted to the Parole Board and to the governor.
For now, there is no parole hearing date scheduled. But last week, District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said he’s been told that parole hearings for juvenile killers, nine of them from Essex County, will be held “sooner rather than later.”
Brodie’s family will oppose parole for Baldwin.
“I don’t feel that someone can be rehabilitated when he’s been in jail for 21 years with other criminals,” Santino said.
As for the view taken by both the United States Supreme Court in a decision last year and the Supreme Judicial Court that teenage brains are not fully developed, Santino said Baldwin knew that his actions were wrong.
“This was a premeditated act,” she said, recalling how Baldwin arranged to meet Brodie through a mutual friend, then brought a baseball bat with him.
“How do you let someone like that walk on the street?” she asked.
“You don’t know if he’s going to do it again. Is he going to try to attack the family again? Is he upset with us? We don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s very scary.”
Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.