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A Massachusetts man who has won some high-profile supporters during almost 27 years in prison for a rape he insists he didn't commit clashed with the state Parole Board on Thursday in his fourth bid for freedom.
Benjamin LaGuer, 46, is serving a life sentence for the aggravated rape of a 59-year-old woman who lived next door to him in Leominster.
He has waged a decades-long campaign to get out of prison, along the way collecting backing from supporters such as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, linguist Noam Chomsky and author William Styron. All of his appeals have been rejected, including three earlier parole bids and nine motions for a new trial.
During a contentious 3 1/2-hour hearing, LaGuer repeatedly professed his innocence and insisted he did not receive a fair trial. He also criticized as unreliable 2002 DNA tests that he said would prove his innocence, but instead linked him more closely to the rape.
Board members peppered him with questions about his prison disciplinary record and about why he has not participated in sex offender treatment or other programs designed to prepare inmates for returning to the community.
LaGuer repeatedly said he refuses to take part in any program that requires him to admit guilt.
"It should be clear to everyone in this room that I will never trade my father's name for any reason, not even for my freedom," he said.
Silber, one of several supporters who testified for LaGuer, said he has gotten to know LaGuer over the last two decades and believes he was wrongly convicted.
"He is, I think, a victim, a genuine victim," Silber said. "He has been severely abused."
But a prosecutor cited 30 prison disciplinary reports against LaGuer and called him a "self-centered, grandiose and very angry man."
"Throughout this entire case, Mr. LaGuer has felt that he is entitled," said Assistant District Attorney Sandra Hautanen.
"Can we trust this man to go out on the street and follow the rules?" she said.
Board Chairman Mark Conrad said the board will issue its decision within six to eight weeks.
LaGuer's neighbor was raped and beaten for more than eight hours in her apartment. She told police her attacker was a man with dark skin. LaGuer, a light-skinned black Hispanic man who was living next door with his father, was arrested several days later after the woman identified him from a photo array.
Her son-in-law, Robert Barry, told the board she spent the rest of her life in a nursing home and died in 1999.
"There was never a question in (her) mind as to who that person was," Barry said.
The board repeatedly chastised LaGuer for focusing on his claims of innocence rather than on prison rehabilitation programs.
Board member Pamela Lombardini said LaGuer has not participated in a prison program since 2003 and has not shown that he could be supervised if he is released from prison.
"You've given me, personally, nothing to hang my hat on," she said.
LaGuer, who often appeared defensive during the hearing, pleaded with the board to release him.
"I will not let you down," he said.
LaGuer's attorney, retired Superior Court Judge Isaac Borenstein, said he will give LaGuer a job as a legal assistant if he is released from prison. Borenstein said LaGuer also plans to study creative writing at Boston University.
"I honestly believe Ben LaGuer has been in prison long enough ... he is ready to re-enter society," said Borenstein, who said he also plans to file a motion for a new trial within the next week.
This program aired on April 22, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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