Meltsner and Burnham Play Significant Roles in Release of Convicted Man
08.10.20 — The release from MCI-Norfolk prison of Arnie King, who committed a murder when he was 18 and served almost 50 years of a life-without-parole (LWOP) sentence, was the work of many hands but Northeastern Law faculty and students played significant roles. With students from Northeastern, Professor Margaret Burnham represented King in post-conviction proceedings commencing in 2004. The Parole Board recommended commutation in 2004, but then-Governor Mitt Romney refused to act on the recommendation. The defense team went on to obtain another favorable vote from the Parole Board in 2007, this time unanimous, but then-Governor Deval Patrick refused to act on the matter.
Burnham then introduced King to Professor Michael Meltsner, who has long advocated an end to LWOP sentencing. Meltsner, through letters and calls to governors and their staff, sought to have King’s sentence commuted, which would allow him to be eligible for parole or order the Parole Board, which sits also to consider commutation, to grant him a hearing.
During his incarceration, King has repeatedly expressed remorse for the slaying of John Labanara, saying he was high on drugs when he pulled the trigger “in a moment of rage and stupor.” In prison, he earned undergraduate and master’s degrees, published articles, mentored fellow inmates and counseled at-risk youths.
On April 7, 2020, King’s attorney, David Nathanson, filed a motion seeking a new trial or reduced verdict, arguing that King, who is black, did not receive a fair trial for the slaying of a politically connected white man because his case was decided by an all-white jury while Boston was “in the throes of racial upheaval.”
“Credit for creative lawyering goes to King’s current counsel David Nathanson and the wise use of discretion by Northeastern Law graduate Suffolk DA Rachel Rollins for the decision to finally free King while claims about his original trial are considered,” said Meltsner, who has represented numerous death row inmates challenging capital punishment over the course of his career and is the author of Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment.
As Meltsner told The Boston Globe, “I’ve visited Arnie in prison, and it was obvious that his wisdom and dignity was respected by both fellow prisoners and correctional personnel. When he was finally released, he was greeted by cheers and applause as he made his way to leave.”
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