One Massachusetts teen served nine years in prison for killing her mother. Another fatally stabbed a schoolmate and is serving life without the possibility of parole. The cases illustrate profound inequities in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system since the passage of a tough sentencing law enacted 15 years ago and designed to punish the most depraved “super-predators” among teen killers, reports the New England Center for Investigative Reporting. The law is not being applied consistently to the most horrific juvenile murder cases, as it was intended.
The U.S. Supreme Court will consider this spring whether it is “cruel and unusual” punishment to sentence juveniles 14 and under to life without parole for murder. In Massachusetts, there is no obvious pattern as to why some killers are sentenced to life without parole and others — who committed shocking, grisly crimes such as fatally beating a 2-year-old — escaped the harsh sentence. Juveniles whose crimes approach the cruelty of the teen whose case triggered the the 1996 law, Edward O’Brien, have escaped the severe sentence, while spontaneous acts of violence by teenagers with little prior record are punished with life behind bars.