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Merrimack Valley

January 4, 2014

Victims' families critical of ruling

SJC: Life sentences without parole for killers under 18 unconstitutional

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.”

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