A judge, a teenage killer and a mother who forgives

By Maggie Mulvihill, New England Center for Investigative Reporting


As the nation’s highest court prepares to hear oral arguments today on the constitutionality of sending juvenile killers to life in prison with no chance for parole, an unlikely trio of Bostonians is hopeful the justices move quickly to abolish the sentence.

“I would give my life for Hassan and he would do the same for me,” said retired Massachusetts Juvenile Court Judge Mark E. Lawton, speaking about a teenage killer he sentenced more than 20 years ago – but has now become Lawton’s close friend.

“If he were the devil incarnate I wouldn’t have anything to do with him, but he is a great tool for goodness,” Lawton said last week, as he prepared to introduce Hassan Smith, now 40, to his juvenile law class at New England School of Law in Boston.

Smith, now a father of three who mentors troubled inner-city youth, believes firmly teenagers – like the one he once was – deserve a chance at redemption no matter how serious their mistakes.

It is that very question the high court is being asked to rule on in the appeals of two-14-year-old killers. Like Smith, who was 16 when he shot Jeffrey Booker in Boston, both inmates are black.

One of those defendants, Evan Miller, from Alabama, was 14 in 2003 when he and an older boy fatally beat a drunken neighbor to death in a trailer park, lit the victim’s home on fire and fled.


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