To the Editor:
I grew up in Buttonwoods. I went to Park School in the ’60s. I rode my bike on Metropolitan Drive, playing with my cousins, who lived down the street. I have great memories of those days.
I remember another time in Buttonwoods, too. 1989. The time of the Craig Price murders.
Mostly, I recall the fear that pulsed through the neighborhood.
Before the killer was found, they were the Heaton murders - the savage, cold-blooded stabbings of a young mother and her two daughters. The girls attended Park School, as did my girls.
The fear was real.
I had to go out of town on business, immediately afterward. My wife and children locked the doors and windows. Never before or since has there been a time when this neighborhood was so filled with anxiety and dread.
I understand the concept of leniency. I agree that we should all be willing to forgive. But I don't understand, and certainly can't support, legislation that would allow a Craig Price to be paroled after only 15 years.
The Rhode Island Senate recently approved a bill (2017-S 0237A) sponsored by Sen. Harold M. Metts (D-Dist. 6, Providence) by which persons serving sentences for juvenile crimes would be eligible for parole after serving only 15 years. This bill would mean that, in effect, life without parole for juvenile offenders would be eliminated. Present RI law makes no distinction, for purposes of parole, between adults and those under 18 convicted in adult court. Even now, persons given life sentences are eligible for parole in 20 to 25 years. This bill would further weaken the protections our laws are supposed to provide.
As Attorney General Kilmartin noted in a Beacon op-ed, the Metts bill "would get rid of the protections the General Assembly sought to create in the event of another Craig Price.” The legislation "effectively prohibits juveniles from being sentenced to life without parole, no matter how horrific or unimaginable an act they commit, and allows juveniles to seek parole after serving a mere 15 years, no matter the length of their original sentence or severity of their crime.”
The present Senator in my district, Jeanine Calkin, voted in favor of this bill. Sen. Calkin says her heart is with Craig Price's victims and their families and "I certainly feel their pain".
Perhaps Ms. Calkin's heart is in the right place. Her vote, however, was in the wrong place.
Another Warwick legislator, House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi, has vowed to fight this bill. He wants to be sure that anyone who commits a crime of such a horrible nature, juvenile or adult, remains in prison for life, without parole. I agree.
For some crimes, life without parole should mean what it says. And for crimes of the type we experienced here in Buttonwoods, it should certainly mean more than 15 years.
I recently re-read some old news stories about the murders of the Heatons and Rebecca Spencer. The details are hard to stomach, even now. But I was reminded of the efforts of former Attorney General Jeff Pine, Assistant AG Patrick Youngs, and many other prosecutors, and Warwick detectives such as Ray Pendergast and Kevin Collins - to first solve the crimes, and then keep the unremorseful killer behind bars. Even now, there's a prospect that Price could be freed before long. That should not be the case.
As Rep. Shekarchi stated: "Someone who commits four murders ...shouldn’t be eligible for parole in 15 years.” That's exactly right.