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Killer institutionalized after decades in prison

CONCORD, N.H. -- New Hampshire's longest-serving inmate knows he may die in prison, but he is not worried about that.

Even if he is granted parole for killing a 4-year-old girl in 1955 in Manchester, Walter Bourque does not know what he would do or where he would go. His parents have died, and he doubts the parole board would let him live with his brother in Manchester.

"I've never lived by myself," he said.

He thinks about Patricia Johnson, the slain girl, all the time. Bourque was convicted of killing her with an ax and burying her in his parents' cellar. He was 17 at the time.

"I wish it had been me," Bourque, now 66, said. "I wish someone had come down the stairs and stopped me. I was scared of the father. . . . The whole time I've been here, I've been thinking about it."

Bourque, who would mark 50 years as an inmate in December 2005, killed the girl because she said she would tell her mother that he had sexually abused her. Prosecutors asked for hanging, the death penalty at the time, but the jury convicted him of second-degree murder, "on account of my age," Bourque said. He was sentenced to 18 years to life.

Bourque last walked outside the state prison unescorted in 1979, when he was given a 72-hour pass. He went to visit friends and remembers a club where the drinks were 50 cents each.

"That was freedom," he said.

Bourque first came up for parole in 1966, but the board denied it because of the nature of his crime. He was transferred to the minimum-security unit in 1977, in preparation for leaving prison, but was accused of inappropriate conduct with minors. In 1978 and 1979, he took part in a program for sex offenders. He said he stole a check and was sent back to prison.

Bourque went before the parole board again in 1999, which said it would release him if he completed the sex-offender program. But Bourque was not assessed to see whether he was appropriate for treatment. In May, after the Concord Monitor brought Bourque to his attention, John Eckert, executive assistant to the parole board, asked again for Bourque to be assessed.

Bourque spends his afternoons working in the print shop, where he started on March 1, 1958.

He does not seem to care that he may never leave. "They call that institutionalized," Bourque said.

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