Joe Donovan will soon be a free man.
Donovan was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for his role in the murder of MIT student Yngve Raustein back in 1992, when he was just 17. Donovan maintains to this day he just threw a punch and his friend Shon McHugh stabbed Raustein to death.
"Me being an idiot punching a kid, but never in my wildest dreams did I think that was going to turn into this," Joe Donovan told NECN in 2010.
Donovan spent the past 22 years in prison, but thanks to a 2012 Supreme Court decision and 2013 ruling by Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court that sentencing juveniles to life in prison for murder was unconstitutional, Donovan will get a second chance.
Thursday, in a unanimous decision, the state's six-person Parole Board voted to grant Donovan's request for release.
"There was no light at the end of the tunnel two years ago, when you get convicted of first degree murder you get sentenced to life without parole, it was just that, but when the SJC ruled in favor of the juveniles I think they made the right decision because you can make a bad mistake, you realize you make it afterwards, at a young age like that sometimes you just don't know," his father, Joe Donovan, Sr., said.
Even Retired Judge Robert Barton, who presided over Donovan's case, was pleased with the news of his release.
"As far as I was concerned, it should have happened about 10 years ago because it's been totally unfair he spends more time in prison than the two accomplices who were involved in the very same act who were just as guilty under the felony murder doctine," Barton said.
Donovan's aunt, Patricia Donovan, says the family has been behind him all the way and they couldn't be happier.
"I was thrilled, I always thought Joey got a raw deal. You know he's a good kid and he always was a good kid and I know he's going to make the best of this opportunity," she said.
Donovan's father says as part of Thursday's ruling, his son will not immediately be released. He will spend six months in a medium secuity prison, then another year at a lower security program within the Department of Corrections. Joe Sr. says after that he believes his son will go to a halfway house to help ease him back into society.