Age Should Not be Only Factor in Determining Dangerousness
Rehabilitation is “Next to Impossible” For Berry
SAUGUS — Saugus Police Chief Domenic J. Dimella and The Saugus Police Department would like to formally state their opposition to parole for convicted murderer Christopher Berry.
A recent Supreme Judicial Court decision makes all juveniles sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole eligible for parole consideration. The Saugus Police Department states, unequivocally, that Mr. Berry’s previous age is irrelevant to his clear danger to society if released.
The following are facts:
• On December 16, 1987, Mr. Berry had spent the night drinking, smoking marijuana, and ingesting Xanax and hallucinogenic drugs with friends.
• After his friends left and Berry got into a fight with his father, he crossed the street and broke into his neighbor’s house.
• His 87-year-old widow neighbor, Virginia Woodward, was asleep upstairs as Berry drank vodka at the scene and smoked cigarettes.
• Then he entered her bedroom, stabbed her eight times in the head, chest, abdomen, upper arms, and hands.
• He then smoked a final cigarette and extinguished it on his deceased victim’s forehead.
• He then stole items from the victim’s house, including a television and two bottles of prescription drugs
• Then, he returned home.
A jury unanimously found Mr. Berry guilty of first degree murder and burglary with assault.
The public health and criminal justice systems tried — and failed — to rehabilitate Mr. Berry. These systems failed to prevent the gruesome murder of an 87-year-old woman. These systems can not guarantee that Mr Berry will not continue to be a danger to the community if he is released.
• Throughout his life before incarceration at age 16, Mr. Berry had already proved countless times that he was a dangerous individual unable and unwilling to reform.
• In 1987, Mr. Berry may only have been 16 years old, but he already had a history of violence and drug abuse. He had been suspended from school on several occasions for various violent infractions, drug use, and antisocial behavior. He had instigated a physical altercation with another student and pushed and shoved them. He also showed up to school high on narcotics and shoplifted while on a school field trip.
• Mr. Berry was hospitalized in late 1985 for conduct disorder, drug abuse, and attention deficit disorder, and then transferred to an alternative education school because of poor performance.
• In early 1987, in an effort to get him back on track, Mr. Berry was enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program for youthful drug and alcohol abusers.
However, none of these things stopped Mr. Berry from committing an especially heinous act on December 16, 1987 that did extreme damage to the Saugus community and a local family that he was deservedly sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.
At Mr. Berry’s trial, a psychiatrist testified that Berry had a “chronic behavior pattern” with “poor social functioning” and “truancy, substance abuse and anti-social behavior.”
A child psychologist summed it up even more succinctly, calling Berry “chronically angry.”
The judges at Berry’s juvenile transfer hearing and in the District Court considered several factors when determining the likelihood of Berry’s rehabilitation before sentencing him to life in prison without the possibility of parole: the seriousness of his offense; his family, school and social history; adequate protection of the public; the nature of his past treatment efforts.
The judges felt that Berry was unable to be rehabilitated, and the Saugus Police Department agrees.
However, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that juveniles cannot be imprisoned for life without the eligibility of parole because they may be able to be rehabilitated. This ruling includes all prisoners currently incarcerated, including Mr. Berry.
Several judges have already considered Berry’s likelihood of being rehabilitated and, given his history, have decided it is next to impossible. At his juvenile transfer hearing the judge ruled that Berry “presented a significant danger to the public and that he was not amenable to rehabilitation as a juvenile.”
The Saugus Police Department believes that this individual should remain incarcerated, or else he will present a significant danger to the community.
The Saugus Police Department supports justice for Virginia Woodward and her family. You can email the parole board at MAParoleDSU@massmail.state.ma.us if you would like to share your thoughts.