Sunday, September 19, 2010

Massachusetts: More on the Donovan Case

Brad Puffer has produced a provocative NECN documentary on 34-year old Joseph Donovan, one of the participants in a fight that took place near the MIT campus on September 18, 1992. Donovan and two other teenagers, while on a late night search for alcohol, came along - and robbed - a pair of Norwegian students. In the process, one of students was stabbed to death with a knife. Donovan admits to throwing the first punch in the fray, but did not do the stabbing. Nor was he even aware that one of his co-defendants was carrying a knife. Nonetheless, he found himself charged with felony murder (the same as first degree murder) and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

One of Donovan's co-defendents, Alfredo Valez, has already served out a seven-year sentence,leaving prison in 2000. In his original testimony to the police, Valez claimed that he alone knew of the presence of a knife in advance of the murder. After he struck a deal with prosecutors, however, he was willing to testify that Donovan also knew of the knife in advance of the murder. Today, when directly asked about the matter, Valez says he just doesn't "know."

The other defendant, Shon McHugh, the one who actually stabbed the 21-year old Norwegian student to death, won the right to be tried as a juvenile, served less than 11 years and left prison in 2003. He claims that Donovan did not know of the presence of the knife in advance of the murder. If Donovan had plead guilty to the lesser charge of second degree murder, he might also be out of prison today. He has recently been denied an appearance before the State's Parole Board.

The judge who presided in the case looks back over his long career and sees it as a standout for lack of fairness. The brother of the victim sees Donovan's sentence as being "way too harsh." The victim's mother agrees that Donovan deserves a second chance. Indeed they are now both formally supporting a clemency petition. See Puffer's full documentary here.

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