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Massachusetts Governor’s Council warm to murderer’s commutation case



Gov. Charlie Baker [Sam Doran SHNS]

By Sam Doran

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, DEC. 13, 2022…..After more than half a century in prison, a man once sentenced to death for a pair of homicides at a Dorchester grocery store could soon be released on parole after his clemency bid got a generally positive reception from the Governor’s Council on Tuesday.

Ramadan Shabazz, 73, led his statement to councilors by taking full responsibility for his actions 51 years ago. He was then known as James Hall, and together with an accomplice ambushed two men who were “replenish[ing] the store’s cash supply,” shooting them and making off with nearly $20,000, according to a Parole Board report.

Gov. Charlie Baker last month recommended commuting Shabazz’ sentence so that he could be eligible for parole, writing that while the crime was “horrific,” he “has not only taken full responsibility for his actions but has also dedicated his life in prison to bettering himself and serving as a mentor to others in prison.”

“I caused both men’s deaths. I’m the reason why Mr. [Calvin] Thorn and Mr. [Harry] Jeffreys didn’t return to their families on Aug. 14, 1971,” Shabazz said Tuesday.

“Because of my actions, … the only way Mr. Thorn and Mr. Jeffreys’ grandchildren can see them is at their grandfather’s gravesite in the cemetery. Because of me,” he said, adding that on past prison furloughs he would visit the site of the Dorchester grocery store to “say a prayer to Mr. Thorn and Mr. Jeffreys.”

He said he has tried to participate in “every program available” at the correctional facilities he has been incarcerated in. A Parole Board report shows he is currently enrolled in groups for prison fellowship, anger management, trauma and resiliency, veterans, and Islamic services and studies. Prison programs, he said, have led to “internalization of personal growth and learning.”

He described participation in a “very selective” companion program working with mentally ill patients, a “difficult” job that required “listening skills, coping skills.” He has also worked as the law library clerk in several prisons and tutored GED students at Bridgewater State Hospital.

While studying for his master’s degree behind bars, which he earned in 1995 through Boston University, Shabazz said he wrote a thesis about incarcerated Vietnam veterans so that “hopefully, somewhere down the line, someone would wake up and say, ‘What about incarcerated Vietnam veterans? Let’s help them.'”

Several councilors at the public hearing zeroed in on the effects of Shabazz’ own service in Vietnam with an armored division, which concluded shortly before the murders.

It was in Vietnam that he became addicted to LSD within days, he said — “my body just absorbed it” — and he said he was on LSD when he committed his crimes in Dorchester.

“I never was a drug user, alcohol, anything. I was a hard-working young man at the time when I was drafted. … Got to Vietnam, morale there at the time I got there was very, very low. Men were refusing orders, men were still dying. … Everyone was on drugs. Everyone was on drugs,” he said.

After returning to Massachusetts, Shabazz said he went to the local VA hospital but was told that “there’s a lot of you guys coming back from Vietnam and we don’t know what’s wrong with you.” He said he has since been treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and is currently in a PTSD group with other veterans.

Councilor Paul DePalo questioned whether Shabazz’ life would have turned out differently, were it not for his time in Vietnam.

If he wins his commutation and is subsequently paroled by the Parole Board, a life is already set up for Shabazz in the suburbs, Dr. Richard Parker testified.

Parker’s late mother-in-law first met the convict in 1983 while volunteering in prison with Alternatives To Violence. She felt he had “a lot of promise,” Parker said, so she helped him “pull himself together,” become a good student, and “learn a lot about the world.”

Parker said Shabazz is considered “a member of our family” and they have a room set aside for him in their Newton home. He added that he spoke with neighbors who are “pleased and excited that he would be part of our neighborhood,” and has put out feelers for job opportunities.

Shabazz’ ex-wife, Elaine Daniels, called him “the man that I have known and loved for 52 years.”

A paralegal who described past work for the Department of Correction, U.S. District Court, and Legal Aid Society, Daniels said she understands state law “and I understand what it takes for someone to survive once they’ve been released from prison.”

“I spent 48 furloughs with him. We never had one incident,” Daniels said. She added that the codefendant in the case, Raymond White, was not sitting in Shabazz’ seat Tuesday because he once fled Massachusetts while on furlough.

“There were three people involved [in the case],” Daniels said. “I feel like out of the three, [Shabazz] is the only one that stood up like a man and took his punishment. And I think he should be commended for that. Because the other person turned state evidence, and Raymond White went on escape.”

Daniels is currently settled in Florida but said she plans to return to Massachusetts, remarry Shabazz, and “do what I can.”

William Allen sat in the council’s hearing room earlier this year asking for his own commutation, which the council granted. He was back in the room Tuesday asking councilors to trust Shabazz as they had trusted him.

Allen said he lived in the same unit as Shabazz for more than 11 years. He called Shabazz a “great man who I love and respect with every inch of my being.”

“We talked every day and ate occasionally together in the unit when chow hall food was terrible. He shared his knowledge with me and he also shared his food,” Allen said.

The commutations earlier this year for Allen and Thomas Koonce, both convicted murderers, were unanimously confirmed by the council.

Councilor Joseph Ferreira asked Allen if he should view Shabazz’ case differently.

“No. Because a mistake happened both ways. And we all make mistakes. It’s about how we overcome it. And if you succeed about correcting that mistake, you shouldn’t be punished for the rest of your life,” Allen said.

Councilor Terry Kennedy of Lynnfield called Shabazz’ case “more difficult” than the others, largely because of the “planning” that went into his crimes.

Kennedy recounted how Allen was convicted under the state’s former felony-murder rule and had not actually killed the victim himself, and said he saw a strong “self defense” argument in Koonce’s case.

“The planning part of this — it’s easy to say ‘I was under the influence of LSD that day and have no memory of it,’ but the planning took some thought. … On LSD or not on LSD, you had to plan it out,” Kennedy said.

Ferreira, who called Shabazz “mostly a model prisoner,” asked him how he would feel about the release of someone who killed a member of his family.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. At least one chance. At least one second chance. Especially if they’re doing well, following the rules, obeying the rules, doing the things positive that keep them out of prison, they deserve a second chance,” Shabazz said.

Shabazz discussed losing a member of his own family to gun violence, and said he expected that his relative’s killer would come up for parole “one day.”

Ferreira asked, “And you’ll be there to testify in favor of release?”

“I have to be,” Shabazz said. “Because he deserves a second chance. Hope. It’s all we have in prison, is hope. We hope to come this far, to be here, to show the governor as well as the Governor’s Council and everyone else that some of us are capable to handle freedom again and be in society again.”

“I don’t sense that you’re any threat to public safety,” said DePalo. ” … I can’t see why we should be devoting state resources to keeping you behind bars.”

Councilor Robert Jubinville said he thought Shabazz’ work in prison was “pretty remarkable” and he “accept[s]” Shabazz’ apology to the victims’ families.

“I think you mean it,” said the Milton Democrat.

“I just wanted to say, Ramadan, that I am the same age as you are,” Councilor Mary Hurley said. “And I can’t imagine having the attitude that you have, spending that amount of time in a correctional facility. I think your story is worthy of a yes-vote and I’ll be voting for you tomorrow.”

Iannella, who chaired the hearing, told Shabazz that he planned to “recommend” that all his colleagues vote for the commutation, and that a vote would likely be held Wednesday.

“I hope you’re going to do the right thing,” Iannella said. “And I hope the only time we see you again is if you’re here like Mr. Allen.”



  1. Fed Up

    December 14, 2022 at 9:25 am

    Absolutely f*cking disgusting! 48 furloughs??? I don’t care one iota how model of a prisoner he was, did anyone ask the families of Mr Throne and Mr Jeffreys how they feel about him being paroled? Because I read the story and didn’t hear their opinion. This state absolutely sucks and the people who Govern it. Typical Democrats care more about the criminal than the victim and their families.

  2. Dick

    December 14, 2022 at 8:08 pm

    Murderers should never get out of jail! 🖕

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