>> NARRATOR: Tonight on Frontline, teens sentenced to life.
Should they be given a second chance?
>> I'm all for second chances.
But we're talking about first-degree homicide.
>> I will forever feel ashamed of my actions.
>> We sent somebody away for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole, which we now know is unconstitutional.
>> NARRATOR: The fate of juveniles sent to prison for murder following landmark Supreme Court rulings.
>> This is an extraordinary experiment in our criminal justice system.
>> NARRATOR: Tonight, "Second Chance Kids."
>> On the evening of September 18, 1988, in the city of Lowell, Massachusetts, I murdered Mr. Louis Pozcyk.
I did so by savagely beating, kicking and, on two separate occasions, repeatedly stabbing him.
>> It was an unconscionable act of violence towards an innocent man.
I shot Mr. Morel, a cab driver, six times, killing him.
>> I struck the first blows to Mrs. Paciulo.
I inflicted pain and suffering on her, and I take responsibility for the terror she must have felt in her final moments on this earth.
>> My greatest, my greatest apologies are to Mr. Carlo Clermy's sons and their mother.
>> When they committed these crimes, these people were teenagers-- they were children.
>> I am not the same person I was some 32 years ago when I commit this offense.
>> They were going to die in prison... >> I shot Mr. Lanigan in the back.
>> ...but, in 2012, the Supreme Court said that kids change.
They grow up.
>> I stand here today not the person who I was when I was 17.
>> The whole reason why these individuals are now finally coming before the parole board is because of this recognition that kids should have the opportunity at some point to demonstrate growth and maturity.
>> The U.S. Supreme Court ruled two years ago... >> But there's fear that if you release a violent person into my neighborhood, something bad will happen.
>> So now you have people who were sentenced to life without parole going before, you guessed it, the parole board.
>> There are some people who should never be released.
He has not fully served his debt for this heinous crime, this brutal massacre of an elderly man.
>> We're prosecutors, we're lawyers.
I'm not a social worker.
And there are some crimes, in my opinion, that are so deleterious to our community that individuals deserve to go to jail for life.
>> Mr. Costello was the individual who hit her in the head with a hammer and who slit her wrists.
>> When you pick up a weapon and you take the life out of somebody, you have chosen that path.
>> He was beaten with rocks and other objects.
>> Notwithstanding the fact that you are young and that your brain is young.
>> This shouldn't be happening.
We were told life without parole years ago, and now he wants another chance.
My brother had no chance.
He got out to help this kid and he shot him in the back.
What more do you need to know?
>> States have really struggled with how to understand these cases.
This is new and it's certainly unusual.
>> Please forgive my son, as only you can.
And, in the healing... >> But I think that what the Supreme Court was trying to do was create a mechanism for those who really have matured and rehabilitated themselves.
That, for children at least, a catastrophic choice-- even if it's involvement in a heinous crime-- does not mark you forever.
>> I'm here facing my demons and recognizing the man that I am today, as opposed to that broken one I was 33 years ago.
>> And if you accept that logic, then the question then becomes, how much punishment is enough?
Keyma, please look at me, man.
>> And are human beings capable of change?
>> I forgive you... but I can't forget.
>> NARRATOR: Currently, across the country, there are more than 2,000 people who were convicted of murder as juveniles and sentenced to mandatory life without the possibility of parole.
This is the story of what's happened to a few of them in the roughly five years since a landmark Supreme Court decision found their sentences unconstitutional.
Anthony Rolon began serving his sentence in 1997.
>> I came to prison when I was 17.
No hair on my face, I'm a young kid, scrawny.
When I got convicted, they said, "Okay, sentenced to natural life in prison, Cedar Junction in Walpole, Massachusetts."
(cell door buzzes) At that time, that was the only maximum prison in Massachusetts.
I was scared.
I was very scared.
Then I just got in a cell, and they closed it behind me and I'm looking at the bars.
And that's when I was just like, "Wow.
How did I get here?"
I would wake up in the morning and I would be like, "They want me to die in prison."
I would go to bed at night.
"They want me to die in prison."
I mean, I was a bad kid.
I was an angry kid.
But I don't feel I was so to the point where okay, now you're going to be a kid that dies in prison.
>> No one made him go out and kill this guy.
Why am I supposed to feel sorry for him?
>> NARRATOR: Anthony Rolon was 17 and living here in New Bedford, Massachusetts, when he committed the murder that got him locked up for life.
>> ...a pack of juvenile delinquents and they stabbed to death this... >> NARRATOR: At the time Rolon was sentenced, Massachusetts-- like the rest of the country-- was cracking down on a new breed of teen criminals called "superpredators."
>> First tonight, a local man is brutally murdered, and the killer sentenced to life without parole.
>> NARRATOR: That same year-- 1996-- Rolon was living near this New Bedford public housing project where he dealt drugs with his father.
Then, one night, a fight with some two dozen kids got out of control.
>> Anthony Rolon stabbed Robert Botelho Jr. to death in New Bedford.
>> One night in January, there was a party going on within the housing complex.
A loud party is gonna bring police.
And that's going to harm Anthony's drug dealing business.
So, Anthony told them to quiet down.
Words were exchanged.
And somebody's got a baseball bat and somebody's got another weapon.
>> There's a shovel.
>> Shovels-- and whatever was available.
They're hitting each other and Rolon thinks that the victim's getting the better of him.
So he takes out a knife out of his pocket and stabs him several times.
Everything was emotion, was macho, the spur of the moment.
>> He's under arrest right now.
>> NARRATOR: In the end, 17-year-old Bobby Botelho suffered three deep stab wounds in the chest.
The fatal one was in the heart, a loss that would mark the Botelho family for decades.
>> I can remember the call as if it was last night that he'd been killed and stabbed and...
I'll never forget that call till the day they bury me.
>> NARRATOR: Bobby's parents and the prosecutors insist that Anthony Rolon planned to kill Botelho after going back to the party 20 minutes later, armed with a knife.
>> He was the leader.
He forced those other kids to go back there and that's why he deserved life without parole.
>> NARRATOR: The family told Frontline that it was too difficult to discuss the murder.
At the same time, juvenile justice advocates now view the case through the lens of the evolving science of juvenile crime.
>> Anthony's case was a classic example of what we call hot cognition.
There's an altercation at a party.
Some poor guy gets stabbed.
We never want to minimize that.
But this was not somebody who had some plan, "I'm going to go and kill this guy for some good reason."
This was a teenager who was just incensed and out of control and does a really stupid, tragic, terrible thing.
>> I killed Bobby Botelho.
I took someone's life.
I do not back down from that and take full responsibility for my actions, at all.
I know what I did.
>> What is rising dramatically is violent crime committed by teenagers... >> But once I was convicted, I was just thrown in that basket of predators.
>> Experts call them superpredators.
>> A superpredator is a young juvenile criminal who is so impulsive, so remorseless that he can kill, rape, and maim without giving it a second thought.
>> NARRATOR: The conviction of Anthony Rolon came during an extraordinary period of national concern over juvenile crime.
>> What is rising dramatically is violent crime committed by teenagers.
>> Watch closely as gang violence erupts in East Los Angeles.
>> Back in the late '80s, early '90s, we started to see the surge in homicide among kids.
The primary reason had a lot to do with the crack cocaine epidemic.
The rate of killing among teenagers has nearly tripled in the past ten years.
>> James Fox is raising an alarm.
>> I was tracking the statistics.
Crime among adults was going down.
But crime among kids was going up.
>> The effects of this new juvenile callousness is there for all to see in the national crime statistics.
>> It was an era when there was legitimately a spike in crime, the likes of which we have still never seen.
>> Teenagers are robbing and killing.
>> Even now where people are talking about a murder rate that's through the roof in Chicago, it's still not close to what it was during that time.
And, so, there were legitimate concerns about the spike in violence, and legislatures just started scrambling to sort of prove their "tough on crime" credentials.
>> In Atlanta, the defendant known as "Little B" just became the youngest boy sentenced to life in prison for murder.
>> I think we have to put these crimes in a broader context.
I mean, I think something really horrific happened in the 1980s when these criminologists emerged.
>> This generation is desensitized to violence.
>> And they were going around saying that, "We have a new species of child in America."
>> Kids kill, it's scary.
>> "And these kids may look like kids, they may act like kids, they may sound like kids," they said, "But don't be deceived.
These are not children."
They said, "These are superpredators."
And it didn't matter whether you were a Democrat or a Republican.
Everybody wanted to be tough on the superpredators.
>> In Massachusetts, once Anthony is found guilty of first-degree murder, then the sentence is mandatory and his life circumstances don't matter-- crack-addicted mother, drug-dealing father, an environment Anthony himself had little control over.
The court at the time said, basically, "No, those are personal circumstances.
We don't consider that."
>> They just looking at the crime.
They don't take into account how you grew up.
They don't take into account whether you had your parents in your life.
They don't take none of that circumstances into account.
When you're sentenced to life without parole, you're a predator, and that's it.
>> NARRATOR: Anthony Rolon was one of three dozen teens in Massachusetts given a life without parole sentence during the late 1980s and 1990s.
Joe Donovan was another.
Like Rolon, Donovan was 17 at the time of his crime, but unlike Rolon, Joe Donovan hadn't actually killed anyone himself.
Joe Donovan was first sent to maximum-security prison in the early 1990s before landing here, at this medium-security facility in Shirley, Massachusetts.
>> Will you just say your name and... >> NARRATOR: A filmmaker who knew Donovan in high school shot this interview in 2013, trying to bring attention to the story.
>> My name is Joseph Donovan.
My commitment number is W55313.
I'm at Shirley Medium Prison doing a natural life sentence.
>> NARRATOR: Joe Donovan's road to life without parole began with some drunken words and a violent assault on two college kids walking near the MIT campus.
The night ended with the stabbing of a 19-year old MIT student from Norway.
>> Random violence has left an MIT student dead after a scuffle with three teenagers.
He died last night from a stab wound to the heart, outside... >> I was told that my brother had been in a fight, and he's been killed.
It was quite a shock.
It takes some time before it sinks in.
My brother never fought any fights his life because he wasn't very physical.
>> We have more information on one of our top stories tonight, the stabbing death of an MIT student near the Hayden Library in Cambridge.
>> I got a call at home.
State police called and they said they had my son.
Of course I went that night, it was like 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning.
>> Police say Raustein was knocked to the ground, stabbed in the heart... >> I talked to Joey and he told me the whole story.
But he said that all he did was throw a punch.
So he didn't figure that he was in that much of a trouble... you know, for throwing a punch.
>> Commonwealth v. Joseph Donovan.
>> Joseph Donovan and Alfredo Velez were arraigned first.. >> My family was sitting right in the front row when I was being arraigned.
And they were like, you know, mouthing, "Are you okay?"
Meanwhile, I was scared to death and I didn't know what the hell was going on.
>> Prosecutors say 15-year-old Shon McHugh is the one who killed MIT student Yngve Raustein.
>> NARRATOR: It turns out that a 15-year-old did the stabbing.
But he was charged as a juvenile because it would still be a number of years before kids as this young could be tried as adults in Massachusetts.
A 19-year-old participated in the attack as well.
He would cut a plea deal and be out in 12 years.
That left Joe Donovan alone to face first-degree murder charges.
>> Without any provocation whatsoever, Mr. Donovan then punched Yngve Raustein, knocking him to the ground.
>> NARRATOR: To convict Donovan, the prosecution put forth evidence at trial showing Donovan knowingly planned and participated in an armed robbery, which started with his punch.
>> Stay down, stay down... >> NARRATOR: In the course of the robbery, the murder took place, according to the prosecution.
>> While Raustein was down on the ground... >> NARRATOR: It's a theory of criminal responsibility called "felony murder," which many advocates now say should not be applied to juveniles.
>> ...plunged his knife into the chest of Mr. Raustein... >> In the felony murder scenario where this individual is not directly involved in the killing, the assumption that they know they are walking into a situation where someone could die-- it's actually not scientifically sound to ascribe that same level of foreseeability to a teenager.
>> The devastating punch broke Donovan's hand as he and Velez took Raustein's wallet... >> That one punch, I don't know why I did it, right.
I also didn't never realize the consequences of what the hell was going to happen after I hit him too.
You know, and ever since then, you know, life's been different.
>> NARRATOR: Joe Donovan's case stands at one end of a broad spectrum of teen crimes leading to life without possibility of parole.
Many teens actually committed the brutal murders that led to their sentences.
But it's not the facts of thousands of these crimes that are now in question-- it's the legacy of the punishments handed out during the superpredator era.
>> A superpredator is a young juvenile criminal who is so impulsive... >> NARRATOR: Academics like John Dilulio and James Fox were the superpredator theory's most public proponents... >> This generation is desensitized to violence... >> NARRATOR: But the theory has now largely been discredited and disavowed.
>> I, like John Dilulio, was very concerned about the rising rate of juvenile crime, and I too used some strong language back then.
I didn't like the term "superpredator" but I did talk about a, uh, a coming crime storm and, and, uh, the idea was to get people's attention, and it did.
By the year 2005, we may very well have a bloodbath of teenage violence.
>> James Fox is raising an alarm... >> NARRATOR: James Fox says it's not clear why the much-feared teen crime wave of the 1990s never materialized.
What is clear, however, is that the superpredator laws he and others helped inspire led to a spike of their own: extreme sentences for teens handed out disproportionately to young black and Latino offenders.
>> I feel bad many times that, that the work that I did, along with John Dilulio, indeed encouraged the wrong reaction.
>> This 11-year-old boy is facing life in prison for shooting an 18-year-old... >> The response was punitive, not preventative.
>> He was arrested in his classroom, wearing his Halloween costume... >> But I don't blame myself.
I don't regret what I did.
I don't apologize for it.
The ones that... who are to blame are those who said, "Okay, crime rates are rising, let's throw them all behind, behind bars for life."
So I don't...
I don't accept any blame for the punishment response.
>> We're talking about a group of kids who are growing up essentially fatherless... >> Now, it's interesting that a lot of those people who argued this superpredator phenomenon recognized that all these projections they made were inaccurate, and a decade later, said, "You know what?
That thing we said about super- predators, not true."
But once you've decided to be tough, it's hard to go back and say, "We were wrong."
>> NARRATOR: In Anthony Rolon's case, the end of the superpredator scare didn't change his sentence.
In 2003, the original judge in the case reduced Rolon's crime to second-degree murder, making him eligible for parole, but the Massachusetts Supreme Court reversed the ruling, leaving Rolon without any further options.
>> I just was tired.
I was spiritually, mentally tired.
I was tired of going in the hole.
I was tired of being an individual that didn't care.
Many years within my sentence, I just asked God, "Make me different."
If I'm going to die in prison, if this is what it's gonna be, allow me to be a better person than I came in.
>> NARRATOR: Meanwhile, Joe Donovan got caught up in a lot of prison violence, at one point assaulting two prison guards, and faced years of disciplinary detention.
>> I was in numerous fights in the beginning.
I ended up going to DDU, which is solitary confinement.
I'm not sure how they describe it, but it's the hole.
Everybody knows what the hole is, right?
So I did about five years in solitary, straight one time.
And I was getting a little crazy at the end of that one.
I've got to tell the truth on that.
>> NARRATOR: Donovan spent years trying to get his sentence commuted by the governor, but that attempt ultimately failed in 2010.
>> I think about it.
I think about it.
But I try not to think about it too much, because if it doesn't happen, I don't want it to destroy me.
>> NARRATOR: This is where things stood for Joe Donovan, Anthony Rolon and the roughly 2,000 other juvenile lifers across the country... until a groundbreaking series of Supreme Court decisions began to change things in the mid-2000s.
It began with a decision on the death penalty for juveniles.
>> The Supreme Court has ruled today that executing people who were under age 18 when they committed their crime is unconstitutional.
>> So in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the execution of juveniles.
What was fascinating about this was that the Supreme Court, in coming to this decision, relied very heavily on developmental science.
>> Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy said juvenile offenders are different "because their character is not as well formed as that of an adult.
"” >> The research was telling us that youth are different and they cannot be as culpable as adults simply because of their developmental immaturity.
>> The Supreme Court heard arguments today about the propriety of imposing life sentences... >> NARRATOR: In 2010, the Court, drawing again on the evolving science of the adolescent brain, ruled on the case of a 16-year-old who wasn't charged with murder, but was given life without parole for an armed home robbery.
In Graham v. Florida, the court did not guarantee freedom for this type of juvenile offender, but it did require a meaningful opportunity for release based on their growth in prison.
>> I'm Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative... >> NARRATOR: Attorney Bryan Stevenson argued the case before the Supreme Court.
>> ...to any child of 13 that you're only fit to die in prison is cruel... We were really encouraged when the court said, "You know what?
Even though it's not a death penalty case, death in prison is a terminal sentence too, and there ought to be the same protections for these children convicted of non-homicides that we've now given to kids facing execution."
That was a very big step forward.
But it was still not as big a step as we needed to make.
>> NARRATOR: After two victories on juveniles, Stevenson decided to take on an even harder case: one of the 2,000 or so teens sentenced to life without parole for first-degree murder.
>> It was a brutal crime.
14 years old at the time, Evan Miller beat and robbed his neighbor.
>> Evan Miller, who's the named plaintiff in that suit, Miller v. Alabama, he beat a man to death with a baseball bat, then set his trailer on fire, over nothing.
They had some argument over drugs, I think.
And so, you know you hear the details of that case and you think, you know, if that's not depravity, I don't know what is.
But if you scratch beneath the surface, you know, you find out about the details of his dysfunctional childhood.
You know, this man that he beat was actually his mother's drug dealer.
His mother was doing drugs in his home.
There was just a depth of dysfunction in that family.
So I think it's interesting that he ended up being the face of this issue.
>> The court ruled today that juveniles can't be given mandatory life sentences without parole.
They say that's cruel and unusual punishment.
>> NARRATOR: The 2012 decision in the Evan Miller case did not abolish life without parole for juveniles.
>> Children under 18 can be sentenced to life... >> NARRATOR: But in a narrow 5-4 decision, the court severely limited the sentence, ruling that, even in a crime as brutal as Evan Miller's, the child's "background" and "diminished culpability" as a juvenile first needed to be considered.
>> ...automatic mandatory life sentences amount to cruel and unusual punishment... >> Miller was a very big breakthrough.
The population of children that were sentenced to die in prison in this country are largely some of the most victimized children in America.
Now we have the opportunity, remarkably, because of what the court has done, to do something.
And that's just give them a second chance.
But the states, not surprisingly, dug in and looked to resist.
>> If you all look at the history of Colorado, some of the most hideous crimes were committed by juveniles.
>> Let's call this the way it is: this is unconscionable; it's outrageous.
>> Some states have already been applying the law retroactively, others like Louisiana, have not.
>> There are some states that interpreted Miller in as narrow a way as possible and refused to grant retroactivity to the cases that came before.
>> Judges in Florida are circumventing the Supreme Court ruling... >> Other states explicitly said they were eligible for parole after some crazy amount of time, like 50 years.
>> ...long prison terms that are virtual life sentences.
>> They said, "We have to do this because the Supreme Court "said we have to, but we're gonna be as stringent as we possibly can about it."
There were other states like Massachusetts that were really out front.
In Massachusetts, the court ruled that life without parole is unconstitutional, period, for juveniles.
And then it made them eligible for parole after 15 years.
The way that Massachusetts interpreted the rights that the Supreme Court granted to juvenile lifers was as generous as you'll see anywhere else.
The question of how it plays out in real life is a different question.
>> More than 60 already convicted murderers in Massachusetts now suddenly have a shot at freedom.
>> NARRATOR: As the states with the greatest numbers of juvenile lifers resisted the Supreme Court's decision, Massachusetts went in the other direction, becoming the first state in the country to begin holding hearings for more than 60 convicted teen murderers.
>> Almost all the victims' families were stunned about the decision.
Questions were: Well, how could this have happened?
Do we have to see these murderers again?
Will I be in the same room with them?
My parents won't be able to handle this.
I thought he was away forever.
Those are... how do you answer those questions?
>> We do have an open line of communication with the family members.
They want to know, well, why... at what point are people gonna be held accountable for their actions, because they have changed my life forever because of what they chose to do?
No, they, they really don't wanna hear all the science and everything else.
>> This is a converted conference room.
It's now the war room.
>> The war room?
>> To handle the appeals.
>> NARRATOR: By spring 2014, district attorneys around the state had dug in in opposition.
>> We had to go down, pull out boxes and boxes of files.
There were 11 cases in this county in which the murderers planned their entire scheme.
It wasn't impulse.
It wasn't an inability to understand the consequences of their actions.
These are cases in which people were brutally murdered.
>> The families of victims of teenage killers are trying to convince lawmakers to keep juvenile murderers behind bars.
>> Today, they delivered a petition with 15,000 signatures to the governor in their fight to keep the murderers behind bars.
>> The families were told 15 years ago: it's over, it's done.
And now every five years, there's gonna be an opportunity for somebody to have a hearing and you're gonna relive it again.
You're gonna relive the pain and the suffering and really the destruction of your family.
>> The family of a teen murdered 35 years ago is getting ready for a parole hearing they never thought would happen.
>> NARRATOR: Despite protest and concern, the first hearings for the state's juvenile lifers began at the parole board in the spring of 2014.
>> Once we knew it was going to be parole hearings, there was a tremendous amount of energy and a tremendous amount of fear.
You know, who's going to go first?
What does that mean?
Am I... you know, guys were saying to their attorneys, you know, "Am I ready?"
>> A plea for mercy from a convicted killer sent to prison for life as a teenager, Joe Donovan is the first to go before the parole board and ask for freedom.
>> Joey Donovan went first.
He was the first to step up and say, "I'm ready, let's go for that parole hearing."
>> Good morning, Mr. Donovan, I'm Josh Wall, chairman of the parole board.
>> But what does that mean in the context of these children who went into prison are now young men, and how do we demonstrate that they are in fact ready to be released?
>> Today is a momentous day.
It's the very first time since my client, Joseph Donovan, was convicted more than 20 years ago, that someone is going to look at his case and make an individualized judgment about how much punishment is enough.
No one has ever done this before and it's long overdue.
>> NARRATOR: Joe Donovan was one of the first juvenile lifers in the country to get the kind of second chance the Supreme Court had ordered.
>> Good morning, members of the parole board.
>> NARRATOR: He began by reaching out to the family of the MIT student he'd assaulted decades earlier.
>> ...my sincerest apologies to the Raustein family.
I will forever feel ashamed of my actions that night which resulted in the death of such a promising young man.
>> Joe Donovan, I remember...
I can hear his voice in my head saying at his hearing, "I was a dumb kid."
>> I think, listen, I realize how stupid, right, I realize... >> You know, sociologists talk about this age-crime curve, where almost all of the crime in this country happens early in life.
And then, you know, by the-- one's 30s or certainly 40s, it just sort of levels off.
You just grow up.
>> I used to not think about other people, not really considering them as, like, thinking, breathing human beings that had their own lives and their own problems and their own families.
And I started really empathizing with other people.
I decided, a conscious decision, to change my actions and myself as a person.
>> So we've read all your letters of support... >> NARRATOR: Over the years, the victim's family had actually come to support Donovan's release.
>> I felt it was really unfair that he was sentenced for such a long time for just hitting someone.
Of course it was my brother he hit, but it's still not worth spending your life in jail for.
>> I punched him in the face with my right hand.
>> And how hard did you punch him?
>> Real hard.
I believe I broke my hand when I punched him.
>> I have hopes for Joe Donovan.
I hope that he will have a normal life and that his family will be thrilled to get him back.
>> ...worse moments of my life.
The worst moment of my life, right there.
>> I think life in jail is... well, it's kind of wasting people's lives.
>> Anthony Rolon was convicted of murder and sentenced to life without the chance of parole... >> NARRATOR: Around the same time that Joe Donovan got his parole hearing, Anthony Rolon would also come before the board.
>> I believe I was the third one to have the parole hearing.
So, it was still fresh.
So I knew that the news and everyone would have their eyes on it.
>> 20-year-old Bobby Botelho was stabbed to death nearly two decades ago.
Tonight, his family speaks to Eyewitness News as they wait to hear if his killer will stay behind bars.
>> It's unfair.
It shouldn't even be happening.
And we'll fight till we have to.
And we'll do whatever it takes.
>> I knew that the victim's family believed I shouldn't even be having this hearing.
>> I miss my son.
He was my first born.
>> We shouldn't be having this opportunity to give this individual a second chance.
>> Good morning Mr. Rolon, I'm chairman of the parole board.
We're here today to consider your petition for parole from a first-degree murder sentence for stabbing and killing Robert Botelho on January 21... >> I wanted to have respect for the family, so I didn't want to look over there.
But I went there with a purpose of having that opportunity to say I'm sorry.
It's time to speak the truth.
It's time to say what happened.
It's time to own up.
>> After being convicted of taking Mr. Botelho's life, I told his mother I didn't kill her son.
For the past 18 years and six months, Mr. Botelho's mother has deserved from me to speak the truth by saying that it was me who killed her son.
And that I'm sorry for creating the pain that is in her heart.
It was like an out-of-body experience for me.
It was unbelievable feeling.
I take full responsibility for the death of Mr. Botelho.
It was very emotional.
My family, my supporters, and for me to go back to that space and talk about it and have them hear, "Okay, he killed someone."
>> I ask forgiveness for Anthony from myself because if I had been the mother that I should have been to my son, none of us would be here today.
My son never saw me actually do drugs, but.. >> At the time, my mother was getting high, so I didn't have no relationship with her.
>> He would get into fights because his friends would call me names like crackhead.
>> My father sold drugs.
I learned negativity from him.
I had anger, man, it was just all anger, all anger.
I didn't think about nothing else that was going on.
I didn't think about the victims' family.
I didn't care.
>> He was my only son.
And I'll never forgive him.
Ever, ever, ever.
I will never forgive him.
>> I heard his mother's anger.
I felt they pain.
>> Bobby was my only son, my only child.
>> When they were speaking, I was on the other side and I just put my head down.
I was ashamed that I was the one who created their pain.
I mean, I've changed and I'm not the same individual.
But, again, I feel ashamed of what I did, man.
If I'd have just walked away that night, if I'd have just been like, "Okay," if I didn't felt I had to prove anything to anybody, Bobby Botelho would be alive today.
>> This was a murder that was clearly first degree... >> NARRATOR: For the victim's family and the prosecutors, Rolon's story of prison transformation wasn't enough.
>> This was a crime that merits punishment beyond 18 years.
He has not served a sufficient amount of time.
>> There are people who show up at every hearing and oppose... >> Absolutely.
>> And they say 18 years, 25 years-- that's not enough.
>> (sighs) That's really a tough one.
I guess I would turn it around in a sense and say what would be accomplished if Anthony spent another 20 years in prison?
>> I understand what I did, I know what I did.
In spite of me serving this sentence, I still made the efforts to grow and fix myself.
Fix myself from the individual that killed Mr. Botelho... >> If you look carefully at the Supreme Court decisions, what they said is, you know, "What is the purpose of locking somebody up?"
>> I understand his mother will never forgive me.
>> How much time does it take for that kid who is dangerous at that moment in time to grow up?
And so, the focus has to be on change, and that's hard for people to wrap their minds around.
>> This is a very challenging case for our office and it raises serious concerns about the suitability of Joseph Donovan to be back... >> NARRATOR: Resistance from the prosecutors also emerged at Joe Donovan's parole hearing.
>> Credible evidence goes against everything Mr. Donovan has said.
>> NARRATOR: Donovan's original prosecutor declined to be interviewed, but he did come before the parole board to make his case.
>> It's not only a punch.
He was an active member in an armed robbery that resulted in a murder.
>> In Massachusetts, the DAs, you know, we all work together.
Our job is to look at the entire picture.
When you go to a parole hearing, and you hear somebody talk about themselves and how they've bettered themselves, that's great.
I hope they all do that, I really do, but that doesn't mean that I'm willing to say you know what, let's open the doors and I'm willing to take another chance that you're not gonna do it again.
>> I realize that I have a bad disciplinary track record.
>> I mean what has this person done, what has this person done when they've been in custody?
You know, the disciplinary reports...
I think the parole board looks at that.
>> Still trying to wrap my head around that-- that you've spent almost seven-and-a-half years in disciplinary detention.
>> And, I'm embarrassed about this, but I was despondent.
I had just been told I'm gonna do the rest of my life in prison.
It seemed like all was lost, sort of.
>> So we'd sort of expected there'd be some questioning about the disciplinary issues in prison.
>> Most people don't spend one third of their incarceration in disciplinary detention.
>> The reality is he was a young man who thought he was never going to get out, and who was in Walpole, and who was terrified.
And felt he was really fending for his life at that point.
>> So now we're at the point where you're 20-plus years in.
And you came in at a really critical age.
Everybody in this room, we all have one thing in common.
We were all 17 once.
But nobody was raised in prison.
>> So now we have to rely on, what's Mr. Donovan gonna really do out there?
>> All right, thank you.
That concludes the hearing.
>> The parole board was concerned that he was so broken that he could not be released.
>> That's a horrible idea, that we sent somebody away for the rest of his life, without the possibility of parole, which we now know is unconstitutional.
And now that we go back to fix the mistake that there would be a thought that, oh well, maybe we've damaged him beyond repair.
>> Mr. Donovan, based on their questions, what do you think your chances are?
>> I'm just hoping.
We'll have a big time for him when he gets out, if he does.
He's got a lot of support.
He's a good kid.
I taught him to be that way.
He made a bad mistake and he's really paid for it.
I think he's more than paid for it, to be honest with you.
>> So Deb, when are we likely to get a decision from the state parole board?
>> Well, there's no time frame at all to issue a decision.
But what they'll do is take the information from today's hearing and they will vote at a separate location... >> Everybody was holding their breath.
I mean, nobody knew what the parole board would do.
They have almost unlimited discretion.
Parole board members can make decisions for almost any reason.
Here you have people who have almost nothing to gain by taking a risk on somebody.
If they release you and you do something terrible, then they know their heads are going to roll.
So it's always safer to deny than to grant somebody parole.
And everybody thought that they would take the same tack with juveniles.
But that's actually turned out to not be true.
>> And we begin at 5:00 with breaking news involving a man convicted of murder as a teenager and sentenced to life in prison.
>> NARRATOR: One week after the juvenile lifer hearings began, the parole board issued its first decision.
>> This lays the foundation not just for Frederick Christian but for up to 65 inmates.
>> NARRATOR: First to be released wasn't Joe Donovan or Anthony Rolon, but a man named Frederick Christian.
>> I didn't want to die in prison.
>> Frederick Christian has been in jail since 1994... >> NARRATOR: Like Rolon and Donovan, Christian was also 17 at the time of his crime and the district attorney in the case didn't think Christian was fit for release either.
>> A convicted, cold-blooded killer, Christian shows only remorse now when he has his freedom to gain.
I testified against his release.
I was incredibly disappointed with that decision.
>> ...a senseless crime, I'm asking you to deny his petition...
I'm all for second chances.
I'm all for helping the kids that we can help.
But I'm also understanding that there are some kids we really can't help-- not to the detriment of the rest of society.
>> It's kind of a specious argument that these people might commit another crime.
We have decades of data on people getting out of prison having committed murder and their recidivism rates are very low.
It's unfortunate that we don't look at it more from the other direction of how much human capital are we wasting in prison?
The whole system should stand together and say, "We've looked at the research.
"We've looked at the history.
"It doesn't make sense to keep all these people in prison forever."
>> After the parole hearing, I went back to prison.
Every day, I thought about the decision.
My experience with decisions when I was incarcerated was always deny.
So the parole lady came to my cell.
She said, "Yeah, you Anthony Rolon?"
I said "Yes, that's me."
She sat down and said that you got parole.
I just, I just, I just cried, man.
You know all, all that, all the pain and stuff, and, um...
I just thought about my family, my mother, finally she have an opportunity to not think that her son... She can wake up and not be like, "Oh, is my son going to die in prison today?"
I thought about Bobby.
A lot, a lot of things just started coming in at that time.
>> NARRATOR: And then there was Joe Donovan.
>> For the third time in recent weeks, a man sentenced as a teenager to mandatory life in prison for murder has been approved for parole.
38-year-old Joe Donovan will be released after 18 months of prison transition programs.
>> NARRATOR: In August 2014, Joe Donovan became the third juvenile lifer in Massachusetts to get paroled.
After more than a year in step-down programs, Donovan was trying to pick up a life he left behind when he was 17.
This was Donovan's first trip home in 23 years, a return to the house where he grew up, and where his mother still lives.
>> Hi, Ma.
>> I can't believe you're here.
(sobbing) >> Oh, man.
>> Praise God.
(sobbing) >> All right.
>> I love you so much.
>> I love you too, Ma.
>> One of the things that is interesting to me, we all talk about being institutionalized, and we think about that a lot.
I see less of that than I expected.
>> Right now, we have 11 individuals who are out.
They've had different experiences getting out, but no one has been pulled back in for a violation of their parole.
They are adjusting to being out rather rapidly, on many levels, and that's impressive.
>> How long have you been here?
>> Been here for about a year.
>> NARRATOR: We caught up with Anthony Rolon about a year into his re-entry from prison.
>> I have a lot of pictures.
Let's see... >> NARRATOR: He was now looking back at his life and trying to make sense of it all.
>> This is an interesting photo.
>> Yeah, my father.
>> So, everything was innocent at that time.
>> NARRATOR: Rolon's father died while he was in prison.
Drug-dealing and alcohol had ended his life at 43.
And Anthony vowed to do it differently himself if he got the chance.
>> This is the first picture I took at... That was the first day I was out.
>> Yeah, man.
That right there, that just says it all.
It was a nice day.
You can just see it in my face, man.
It was unbelievable.
It was an unbelievable feeling.
>> And did you feel like you had that moment of like, "Oh I'm free," or "I'm on parole," and that's a difference?
>> I mean I knew I had restrictions, I understood that, but I mean the restrictions that I had before, and restrictions I have now, I'm free.
I mean, I'm free.
>> When I walked out the gates, and I seen my mother...
I was able to hug her, I felt free.
Two weeks after I was out, I was working.
That was very, like, new to me.
I always sold drugs, so I never had a job.
So, I've been having a lot of moments since I've been home.
But the birth of my daughter was just, like, trumps all those moments, man.
I seen my daughter born, I was in the delivery room.
Everything came back because, at one moment, I took a life.
Now I'm seeing a life come into the world that I gave to, that I helped bring in.
And to know that I'm responsible for this little girl.
I have to make sure she doesn't go through what I went through.
It is my duty as a father to be there for her.
Go bye-bye, mama... >> Anthony called himself at the parole board hearing a 17-year-old thug.
And he's not that 17-year-old thug anymore.
He's a father of a child.
He's a productive employee of a national company.
He's a taxpayer, he's a law- abiding citizen.
>> You know, there are certain times when kids are gonna make mistakes.
And when you're young and irresponsible, you're young and irresponsible.
But when you're talking about capital cases, when you're talking about people who have taken the life of somebody else, we need to make sure that we look at those and make sure that the people who have hurt someone or killed someone in our county, we make sure they're accountable for their actions.
I think you have to look at what the facts are for each individual case and then maybe there is some redeeming factor that you can talk about and perhaps have a conversation.
Parole has their job.
The defense attorneys have their job.
I understand that.
But if you killed a man in cold blood, and now 20 years later, we let you back out, but you say you're not going to do it again.
Do I have a guarantee on that?
I don't think I do.
>> NARRATOR: During the year in which Anthony Rolon, Joe Donovan, and nine others were released, roughly half of those who came before the board were granted parole.
But, since that time, no other juvenile lifers in the state have been released.
Donovan himself is still living in a halfway house while working full time and he's dealing with the reality that he will now be on parole for the rest of his life-- only one violation away from going back to prison.
>> It was the Supreme Court ruling in January that banned mandatory life sentences for juveniles, retroactively... >> NARRATOR: Meanwhile, in January 2016, the Supreme Court issued another ruling on juvenile lifers-- this time forcing those states that had resisted the Miller decision to finally act.
In Montgomery v Louisiana, the Court reaffirmed that even those who commit heinous crimes are capable of change and must be afforded an opportunity for release.
>> We obviously would've preferred the court articulate a categorical ban on all life without parole sentences for children.
So, I think we're still in conversation with not just the Supreme Court on this topic, but with the country, and I think if we're successful, we can begin to imagine how our criminal justice systems can start to change and not just be a place where we impose the harshest, most extreme punishments that the law will allow us to get away with, but instead a place where we try to help people recover.
>> NARRATOR: In the wake of this latest Supreme Court decision, hearings are now starting to go forward for cases around the country, but just how many juvenile lifers are released will be up to judges, juries, and parole boards.
And Evan Miller himself?
Five years after the landmark Supreme Court decision in his case, Miller finally got a chance for his own resentencing hearing in March 2017.
His legal team presented several days worth of witnesses, and the victims' family showed up to remind everyone of the decades of grief that follow a violent act.
>> It is upsetting that we're having to go through this again, having to relive horrific details of what happened to my father.
He deserves life without parole, doesn't need to ever get out, so that he can't do this to somebody else.
>> You know, it feels like a giant step to actually release any of these individuals back into their communities.
This experiment is unfolding.
These hearings will go forward because we must do them.
The Supreme Court has required that they be done.
But what we can say about this five or ten years from now, I think is a very fluid question.
>> NARRATOR: Billions are spent on housing America's poor.
So, why are so many left behind?
>> Where do you think you're going to go?
>> I have nowhere to go.
I'm going to a hotel.
>> NARRATOR: Frontline and NPR investigate the housing crisis-- the moneymakers... >> Millions of dollars in kickback money.
>> The money that they took could have built hundreds of units for the homeless.
>> NARRATOR: ...and dealbreakers... >> It's property they do not want in their neighborhood.
>> NARRATOR: "Poverty, Politics, and Profit."
>> Go to pbs.org/frontline for a closer look at the makeup of America's juvenile inmate population.
Read more about the evolving science of the adolescent brain... >> This was a teenager who was just incensed and out of control.
>> How much time does it take for that kid who is dangerous at that moment in time to grow up?
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