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Patrick Wants Mass. Crime Bill Amended

Gov. Deval Patrick said Saturday that he will send a crime bill back to the Legislature with an amendment that would allow parole in some cases for repeat violent offenders convicted under the legislation's so-called three strikes provision.

The bill lawmakers approved this month would bar parole for an offender after conviction of a third violent crime.

Patrick wants to give state judges limited discretion to allow such offenders to be eligible for parole after serving two-thirds of their maximum prison sentence or after serving 25 years of a life sentence. A judge would be able to grant parole to third-strike offenders after finding this option in the "interest of justice and upon a finding ... of substantial and compelling reasons."

Patrick said his proposal was included in earlier versions of the crime bill, and he noted that state officials could appeal any parole granted under the amendment.

"This change will ensure that the expansion of mandatory sentencing - which I fully support - does not have unjust consequences," Patrick said in a letter to lawmakers. "None of us is wise or prescient enough to foresee each and every circumstance to which the new habitual offender provisions may be applied."

Patrick called the amendment a "judicial safety valve."

A spokeswoman for the Democratic governor said he hoped the Legislature would approve the amended bill in time for him to sign it within days. The legislative session ends at midnight Tuesday.

Patrick's move drew immediate criticism from Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, a Republican from Gloucester. He said Patrick was "defending the interests of those who break the law" and jeopardizing passage of the bill.

"His actions ... are both ill-timed and ill-advised by trying to amend a good and balanced bill with an extraordinary measure to protect repeat violent criminals, with precious little time remaining in the legislative session," Tarr said in a statement.

On Thursday, the state's top judge, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Roderick Ireland, sent Patrick a letter expressing concerns about the crime bill's three strikes provision, saying it fails to give judges any discretion in the sentencing of violent offenders.

Ireland also said an automatic appeals process in the bill could unnecessarily clog the high court's already busy docket.

The state House and Senate this month overwhelmingly approved the legislation, which is also called Melissa's Law. It's named after Melissa Gosule, a 27-year-old Boston teacher who was raped and stabbed to death in 1999 by a man who had 27 convictions but had served less than two years in prison.

The bill also would reduce some mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent crimes, shrink the zone around schools in which crimes carry enhanced sentences from 1,000 feet to 300 feet and shield from possible prosecution a person who calls police to report a drug overdose.

This program aired on July 28, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

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