The Supreme Judicial Court yesterday told the district attorneys from the Cape and Islands, Norfolk, Essex and Plymouth counties that no, they cannot intervene in a Suffolk County murder case that has nothing to do with their rural and suburban communities, even if it could ultimately lead to a decision that they don't like.
As reported by Yvonne Abraham at the Globe, at issue is an SJC decision in a case in which two teens, one 17, one 18, were convicted and sentenced for fatally shooting one teen and injuring another on Geneva Avenue in Dorchester in 2011.
The 17-year-old, Nyasani Watts, was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 15 years, based on a 2013 ruling saying life without parole for people up to 18 is cruel and unusual punishment. But the 18-year-old, Sheldon Mattis, who did not pull the trigger but who did give the younger teen the gun and then celebrated with him afterwards, was sentenced to life without possibility of parole.
In its ruling last month, the state's highest court upheld the convictions, but sent the then 18-year-old's case back to Suffolk Superior Court, for a judge to consider the issue of whether new research into the "developmental traits of young people" means that Mattis should have gotten a similar sentence to Watts. The justices said that it is, perhaps, time for them to re-evaluate their age-18 cutoff for such treatment, and said a Superior Court judge should let Mattis's attorney make the case.
And here is where the four DAs decided to try to jump into the case. As Abraham reports, they filed an unusual request with the court to either not send the case down to Superior Court or that they be allowed to intervene as parties to the case, to basically argue before in a Suffolk County court against the Suffolk County DA's office on what they assumed would be DA Rachael Rollins's willingness to consider the possibility that people up to 22 might have brain developmental issues that would warrant treatment similar to what the SJC mandates for defendants 17 or younger - at a minimum, a hearing on whether their age makes them ineligible for a sentence of life without parole.
The SJC swatted them down yesterday, denying their request, although without prejudice, which means they could try again.
The four DAs filed their motion even though Rollins's office in fact argued to uphold the sentences against the two murderers. In its written brief on the case for the SJC, the Suffolk DA's office acknowledged that Rollins is in favor of reconsidering the current age limit, but only if done through the state legislature:
While the District Attorney supports legislation that contemplates the expansion of the statutory sentencing scheme for juveniles convicted of murder to include emerging adults, the legislative process would ensure that all relevant stakeholders, including the District Attorney, have the opportunity to weigh in on this important change.
In their request, a copy of which Abraham posts, the four DAs acknowledge their bid to intervene is "foreign" to the way justice works in Massachusetts, but said the fact that Rollins might argue against a sentence of life without parole for Mattis, even after her brief explicitly said she would not, is so potentially damaging to cases they might try in their own jurisdictions, they should be allowed to send their own assistant DAs into court to argue against Mattis.
Rollins was having none of it; in her reply, she wrote:
The suggestion that their assistance is required is as misogynistic and paternalistic as it is racist.
Of possible note is that one of the four DAs, Cape and Islands DA Micahel O'Keefe, was the guy who wrote a Globe op-ed about five months after Rollins took office in 2019 to argue that the cause of crime in Boston, a city well outside his district, is Black kids in saggy pants who listen to the hip hop.