|NO CLEMENCY 'AT THIS TIME' Officials praised Arnold King's strides to improve himself, but it wasn't enough for Patrick.|
Governor Deval Patrick yesterday denied the first commutation petition to come before him since he took office, concluding that a man serving a life sentence for shooting a Boston political aide to death in 1971 received "just punishment."
The inmate, 56-year-old Arnold King, had received unanimous support for commutation from the state Parole Board, as well as support from the Massachusetts Black Legislative Caucus, academics, ministers and community leaders. During his 36 years behind bars, King earned undergraduate and master's degrees, mentored fellow inmates, and participated in programs counseling youths about the pitfalls of drugs and violence.
Patrick acknowledged the strides made by King and emphasized that he believes "strongly in the power of rehabilitation and redemption, and in the appropriateness of granting executive clemency in exceptional circumstances."
But in a one-page statement yesterday, Patrick added that, "while his disciplinary record has improved over time, it has been far from exemplary.
"I must also acknowledge the egregiousness of the underlying offense, in which Mr. King shot an innocent stranger in the face, at point blank range, without provocation, only two days after another state had released him on parole for another violent crime, as well as the impact on and continuing sentiments of the victim's family."
On Oct. 20, 1971, King, then 18 years old and high on marijuana and alcohol, stuck a gun in a car window on Newbury Street and fired a shot into the head of John Labanara, a 26-year-old campaign aide to Boston Mayor Kevin H. White. At the time, Labanara was out celebrating after passing the state bar exam. King had recently been paroled after serving eight months in a New Hampshire jail on a robbery charge. He was convicted of first-degree murder in Labanara's slaying and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Stephen Bowen III, a close friend of Labanara's who worked with him on political campaigns, described Labanara as "a very decent guy" with a promising future in public service. He said yesterday he was relieved by Patrick's decision not to let his friend's killer go free.
"I think he did rise to the occasion and make a good decision," Bowen said. "He didn't allow himself to be boxed in and pressured by all the people who tried to pressure him."
Patrick's decision was a deep disappointment for King's supporters, who had hoped the governor would deviate from the path of his Republican predecessors, who last commuted a sentence 11 years ago.
Said Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Harvard Law School professor: "It's hard to imagine anyone who has shown more progress in their life than he has over these past 35 years . . . He is really the consummate role model for young people in the community who may be going in the wrong direction and need someone who has been through that process to show them the error of their ways."
Ogletree and lawyers for King said they hope Patrick will be receptive to another commutation request from King, pointing out that the governor said he did not believe the petition should be granted "at this time."
Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com.