Unequal Justice?: A Killer's Words

(NECN: Brad Puffer) - Joe Donovan is serving a life sentence with no chance of parole. He was the subject of the NECN documentary "Unequal Justice?". He is one of three Cambridge, Massachusetts teenagers charged in the murder of an MIT student in 1992, but the only one still in prison.

Now new developments in the story could impact Donovan's bid to be released by the Governor.

The letter from Shon McHugh is handwritten. Two pages long. He begins, "I remember that night fairly well being it was the night I ruined so [many] people's lives, it's not something you easily forget"

That night was September 18, 1992. McHugh, a 15-year-old from East Cambridge was walking with two other teenagers along Memorial Drive. A fight began. McHugh stabbed and killed Yngve Raustein, an MIT student from Norway. Tried as a juvenile, McHugh was released after 11 years. The other teen spent only 7 years in prison. But 17-year-old Joe Donovan was convicted of felony murder as an adult and sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole. Joe admits to throwing the first punch, but he has always maintained he never knew McHugh had a knife.

Joe: "I never knew any of this was going to happen. It's kind of crazy you know."

McHugh, who was sentenced to prison again on federal drug charges in April, said in his letter from jail, "There were several statements made at our trials that were not true. The two most important are [that] Joey did not know I [was] carrying a knife and there was never any plan to rob anyone."

"If he didn't know that knife was available to be used, the law is quite clear, he could not be convicted of participation in a felony murder And you have really blown a big hole in that issue with this particular letter."

Judge Robert Barton presided over Joe Donovan's trial. He supports Joe's request for a commutation from the Governor, the power to release someone before their sentence is up, because of the unequal sentences received by his two co-defendants. Now, Barton says there is more reason for a commutation.

Now the tables have turned. Now not only is there an inequality in sentencing. Now there is a serious question whether Donovan should have been convicted of felony murder.

Donovan was convicted of felony murder because the wallets of Yngve Raustein and another MIT student were also stolen. And the third teenager, Alfredo Velez, in a plea deal, testified Shon showed Joe the knife before the murder. Velez admits to taking a wallet. But in our documentary, "Unequal Justice?" Velez backed off his testimony about the knife.

Velez: "You testified that Shon showed Joe the knife outside the liquor store but you don't remember? No. Did Joe ever take a wallet? I don't remember."

Legal experts say Velez could lose his plea deal if he admits to lying on the stand.

Bob George: "If he comes forward to say he is lying under oath I guarantee you there is something hanging over his head."

Bob George was Shon McHugh's lawyer in 1992. He has no reason to doubt the words in McHugh's letter.

"I believe when he says Donovan did not know he had a knife he is telling the truth. Whether or not Shon McHugh was saying the same type of thing back then or was prepared to testify to the same thing back then is not something that could have happened in this case because he had a fifth amendment right to remain silent back then."

Shon McHugh ends his letter by saying, "At this time I would like to offer the Rausteins and the Donovans an apology for my actions that caused two families to lose their sons. This seems so hollow considering it doesn't give Mr. Raustein his life back or Joey back the 18 years he lost. There is nothing I can do or say that will repair the damage I have caused. I am terribly sorry! These are things I need to deal with and live with for the rest of my life."


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