Should all life sentences be reviewed?

Two wrongfully convicted black men won big victories this week — one had a murder conviction vacated, and the second will get $3.1 million for serving 38 years behind bars for a crime he did not commit. Both men received sentences of life without parole.

There is a combined 78 years of wrongful incarceration between Frederick Clay, who got the settlement, and James J. Watson, whose sentence was vacated. There are also reports of millions spent by the city of Boston to resolve police misconduct claims.

“Every case in the DOC system of someone serving life without parole should be reviewed. There are approximately 1,000 people serving life,” tweeted Rep. Liz Miranda of Boston on Thursday while sharing the Clay story.

Revisiting the cases of those serving life without parole isn’t mentioned in the police reform package currently being debated on Beacon Hill, although the legislation does increase public access to records of police wrongdoing, which could help those seeking to reopen cases.

District attorneys are also starting to identify and share with defense attorneys the names of police with issues in their background that could damage their credibility. In September, Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins released a so-called Brady List of 136 officers who have been indicted or charged on federal offenses or been accused of or engaged in misconduct. Many remain on the job.

Nationally, more than 90 percent of state and federal criminal convictions are the result of guilty pleas, often by people who say they didn’t commit a crime. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in 2018 wrote that over the last 50 years, defendants chose trial in less than 3 percent of state and federal criminal cases. Thirty years ago, the group said, 20 percent of those arrested chose trial.

When Rollins released her Brady list, defense attorney David Nathanson noted that the high rate of guilty pleas means an officer’s assertions are read off a police report and never tested under cross examination. That means that many people who end up with 15, 20, or 30 years in prison don’t always get the public forum that comes with a trial. Life without the opportunity of parole means, in most situations, the issue won’t be revisited unless a successful appeal is made.

Watson had his conviction overturned last week for the 1979 murder of Boston cab driver Jeffrey Boyajian after a Suffolk County Superior Court judge found Watson adequately raised concerns about prosecutorial and police misconduct. Specifically, the police allegedly incentivized and coerced witnesses, used hypnosis on a witness (which is widely discredited), and failed to find Watson’s DNA on any items connected with the murder.

Watson was serving life without parole when he was released in April due to his wrongful conviction claims, his age, and medical condition. He was represented by the Committee for Public Counsel Services’ Innocence Program, and the investigation into his 41-year-old case was funded by the New England Innocence Project. Rollins’s office dismissed all charges against Watson on November 10.

Watson’s co-defendant, Clay, was released three years ago when his case was vacated by former Suffolk District Attorney Dan Conley’s office, which conducted an investigation into the 1979 murder that raised doubts on the fairness of his trial.

Such exonerations are few and far between. Over its 20-year history, the New England Innocence Project lists only 20 exonerees.

Beacon Hill proposals that pre-date George Floyd’s death also exist. Belmont Sen. William Brownsberger and Cambridge Rep. David Rogers have sought to repeal life without parole. Legislators are also pushing to allow prisoners to make the case for their release after 25 years of incarceration.

SARAH BETANCOURT

 

FROM COMMONWEALTH

A lame duck House passed a budget amendment that would allow women as young as 16 to obtain abortions without parental or judicial approval and would also expand access to abortion when the fetus is older than 24 weeks. House Speaker Robert DeLeo was praised and criticized for the process he used to win passage.

The Senate’s proposed spending plan for this fiscal year hews closely to the House plan, and its deliberations will also feature debate of an abortion amendment.

Despite criticism for the way he handled sexual misconduct allegations against Holyoke mayor Alex Morse, Gus Bickford is reelected as chair of the Massachusetts Democratic Party.

Despite the Baker administration’s new COVID-19 metrics, the number of high-risk communities doubles. The state’s death toll from COVID also tops 10,000.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh moves forward with police reform initiatives.

The Massachusetts Republican Party jumps on the unfounded election fraud bandwagon to help raise money.

Opinion: With COVID-19 cases resurging, Dr. Jarone Lee returns to talk about what’s happening on the medical front lines.

FROM AROUND THE WEB             

 

BEACON HILL

House Democrats rejected a proposal to rejigger state law to ensure that a Democrat would be appointed to a Senate vacancy should Sen. Elizabeth Warren be tapped for a post in the Biden administration. (Boston Herald)

The House approves its $46 billion budget proposal for FY21. (MassLive)

Gov. Charlie Baker and the governors of six other states in the Northeast agree to suspend interstate hockey competitions among public and private school teams. (State House News)

A Leominster couple is leading an effort to win union recognition for state foster parents. (WBUR)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The city of Boston is establishing three new funds, with a total of $6 million, to distribute aid to struggling small businesses. (Boston Globe)

Framingham provides an interesting case study of a community in transition in relation to COVID-19. Once considered red, or high risk, the city is now yellow, or moderate risk, but case levels are rising. (MetroWest Daily News)

Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse appoints outgoing state rep Aaron Vega director of planning and economic development. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Joe Glynn of the Dennis-Yarmouth Regional School Committee and Yarmouth Housing Authority has been accused of putting a racist post on his Facebook page. (Cape Cod Times)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A study by epidemiologists at the University of Pennsylvania says evictions during the pandemic will lead to more coronavirus infections in a community. (Boston Globe)

A new study finds supervised drug consumption in Massachusetts would save lives and money. (WBUR)

Beth Israel Lahey Health plans to acquire the Joslin Diabetes Center, continuing the regional march toward health care consolidation. (Boston Globe)

Reporters from the Enterprise and Patriot Ledger look at how Massachusetts got to 10,000 coronavirus deaths. (Telegram & Gazette)

MassLive looks at the relationship between the flu and COVID-19, amid fears of a “twindemic.”

Massachusetts will reopen field hospitals as COVID-19 case numbers rise. (MassLive)

The Fall River area is the reddest in the state with high COVID-19 case counts. (Herald News)

The Enterprise explores the painful toll of the pandemic, as the state reaches over10,000 lives lost.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

As President Trump fixates on stirring doubt about the election outcome and promoting false voting fraud charges, he has largely abandoned his governing duties, reports the Washington Post.

The virus surge is breaking records across the US, and states are reimplementing restrictions to stem the spread. (Associated Press)

ELECTIONS

The Globe profiles Massachusetts native Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, the below-the-radar campaign manager behind Joe Biden’s White House win.

North of Boston Media Group’s Christian Wade looks at which Massachusetts officials could be tapped for a Biden administration. (Gloucester Daily Times) Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, one of those rising to the top in the chatter, sayshe hasn’t heard from Bidenworld. (Boston Herald)

A council of local, state, and federal officials assembled by the Department of Homeland Security issues a statementsaying there is no evidence any voting systems were compromised in the national election. (New York Times)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

File this one under “what were they thinking?” The first cruise in the Caribbean since the pandemic broke out in March is being cut short and returning to port after passengers on board tested positive for coronavirus. (Washington Post)

MassLive’s Jim Kinney looks at which businesses are faring well during the pandemic, and which businesses are not. Driving schools are having to adjust significantly during the pandemic. (Standard-Times)

Outgoing Holyoke State Rep. Aaron Vega, D-Holyoke, takes a new job as director of Holyoke’s Office of Planning and Economic Development. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Gov. Charlie Baker visits a school in Carlisle as he continues to press for a return to in-person learning for K-12 students. (Boston Herald) A Globe editorial urges a return to in-person instruction for high-needs students in the Boston Public Schools.

The Biden administration is likely to move swiftly to reverse many policies implemented by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, but signs that it will tilt more heavily toward teachers unions than the Obama administration did draws criticism from Massachusetts parent activist Keri Rodrigues. (New York Times )

A US Appeals Court finds that Harvard’s affirmative action policy does not discriminate against Asian-Americans in admissions. (Associated Press)

ARTS/CULTURE

Israel Horovitz, the prolific playwright who founded the Gloucester Stage Company but saw his reputation undone by a rash of sexual assault allegations, died at age 81. (Boston Globe)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The confirmation hearing kicks off for Kimberly Budd, who is Gov. Charlie Baker’s nominee for chief justice of the Supreme Judicial Court. (State House News Service)

MEDIA

Bob Oakes will step down as anchor of WBUR’s “Morning Edition,” and will return to his reporting roots as a senior correspondent for the station. (Boston Globe)

BuzzFeed is launching a sex vertical — along with a branded sex toy. (Digiday)