LAWRENCE — Luis Penn, a Lawrence man convicted of committing first degree murder at age 17, was recently granted parole by a state board and now faces deportation.
Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett objected to Penn’s release and also opposes the Massachusetts elimination of the “life without parole sentence” for any convicted murderer, he said.
Penn, 34, of Lawrence, was found guilty of the first degree murder of Aneury “Willy” Guzman, 21, who he shot in the head outside 452 Water St. on April 1, 2004.
On Jan. 19, 2007, Penn was convicted of Guzman’s murder by an Essex Superior Court jury and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Then, in December 2013, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled the sentence of life without parole would not apply to minors.
Penn was denied parole in 2019. But he applied again and a second parole hearing was held on April 29, 2021.
The parole board unanimously agreed Penn was a suitable candidate for parole “after careful consideration of all relevant facts, including the nature of the underlying offense, the age of the inmate at the time of offense, criminal record, institutional record, the inmate’s testimony at hearing, and the views of the public as expressed at the hearing or in written submissions to the Board,” according to the decision, released on Oct. 18.
Penn, who served 17 years in state prison, is facing deportation to the Dominican Republic and his attorney indicated he would not fight a detainer from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“He appears to have a solid support network and parole plan in the Dominican Republic,” the parole board wrote in its decision.
Dr. Michael Sherry, who offered an expert opinion at the parole board hearing, said Penn “would benefit from counseling to address his history of childhood trauma and that he is motivated to continue to engage in treatment,” the board wrote.
Blodgett’s office, in an 8-page letter to the parole board in April, said they opposed parole again as they did in 2019.
The murder “was unimaginably cruel and horrific. It was an execution. That Penn was capable of such extreme and unprovoked violence against a stranger, standing alone, suggests he is not suitable for parole,” wrote Elin Graydon, special assistant district attorney, and Kimberly Gillespie, assistant district attorney, in the letter.
The parole board said in the event Penn is released from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, he must be at home from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily and wear an electronic monitoring device.
He must also submit to drug and alcohol testing and mental health counseling. Also, Penn is barred from having any contact with the victim’s family, the board ruled.
Attorney Ryan Schiff represented Penn at the parole board hearing. Parole board members who voted to release Penn were Gloriann Moroney, Dr. Charlene Bonner, Tonomey Coleman, Sheila Dupre, Tina Hurley and Colette Santa.
In 2015, the SJC upheld Penn’s first degree murder conviction, saying there was sufficient evidence to support it.
The key evidence backing the guilty verdict was testimony by witnesses that the shooter was taller than the victim and that the assailant’s chin nearly touched the center of the victim’s forehead, according to a previous statement from Blodgett’s office.
Penn was 5 inches taller than Guzman while his codefendant, Benjamin “Benjy” Serrano, was an inch shorter than the victim. This testimony was corroborated by the medical examiner, who determined that Guzman died from a single gunshot wound at the top of his head.
The path of the bullet was downward. At Penn’s trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Serrano was looking for Guzman because the victim was dating his former girlfriend. When Serrano found Guzman, he pulled a gun and threatened to kill him.
Guzman’s friends urged Serrano to “fight him with his hands,” witnesses testified. Serrano called to Penn, who was hiding in a nearby ally, by his street name “Fifty” and asked Penn to hold the gun while he fought Guzman.
As they fought, Penn pointed the gun at Guzman’s friends. Eventually Guzman got away from Serrano, but Penn went after him and shot him in the head outside 452 Haverhill St. When he was found 30 minutes later, at 9 p.m., he was dead.
Penn fled the area right after the shooting, but was found two weeks later at a relative’s home in Shamokin, Pennsylvania.
Penn was convicted and sentenced Jan. 19, 2007. After deliberating for nine hours the previous day, jurors told Lawrence Superior Court Judge Howard Whitehead that they could not reach a verdict.
Whitehead, however, told them to continue their efforts and by 2:20 p.m. Jan. 19, they were unanimous in finding Penn guilty of first-degree murder.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.