Locking up kids for life?

By Nancy Gertner
January 19, 2014

Three decades ago, Edward Palmariello, 17, and his 21-year-old friend Bruce Chambers were arrested in the murder of Edward’s mother, Marion. Then a defense attorney, I represented Edward at trial. The jury found both men guilty and the sentence was mandatory — life in prison without any possibility of parole.

The Commonwealth’s story in court was simple: Edward and his mother fought all the time. He had said things to her like “Shut up or I’m going to cut you up and put you into the toilet bowl,” and he once waved an open switchblade at her. On another occasion, while Edward and Bruce were listening to music, Bruce got into the act. When Edward’s mother yelled at them, Bruce countered, “I’d like to take [your] mother and tie her up and gag her and stick her on the first floor just to shut her up.”

On the day of the killing, Edward and Bruce were repairing plaster and painting in the Palmariello home. Another trivial fight started, this time over where the paint can should be stored. As Edward’s mother stood up to grab the paint, Bruce took a cord he was using in his work and threw it over her head. She fell forward, the cord around her neck, and strangled. Edward, because of his threats before her death and his later efforts to cover it up, was charged alongside Bruce in the killing. Their defense, which the jury rejected, was that it had been an accident. Weakened by emphysema, asthma, and pneumonia, Marion Palmariello was especially vulnerable.

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