Like a recurring nightmare, triple murderer Daniel LaPlante again is seeking an earlier parole eligibility date. His appeal was heard by the state Supreme Judicial Court last Tuesday.
Attorney Merritt Schnipper, representing LaPlante, emphasized during oral arguments that a 45-year sentence for a juvenile homicide offender before parole consideration “does not provide a meaningful opportunity for release.” Crystal Lee Lyons, Middlesex assistant district attorney, argued that 45 years is reasonable — adding that LaPlante is not serving the functional equivalent of a life sentence without parole.
In 1987, LaPlante, of Townsend, committed one of the most heinous acts ever recorded in this state. He raped and fatally shot a pregnant Priscilla Gustafson, and drowned her 7- and 5-year-old children in their Townsend home.
LaPlante, 17 at the time, was known as a sort of misfit who enjoyed pulling pranks on town residents. No one could have imagined he was capable of such savagery.
His sheer depravity — plus the unspeakable torment he put this family through — stands out as a level of cruelty that’s painful to even contemplate 30 years later. Chief Justice Ralph Gants on Tuesday accurately called the murders “abhorrent.”
Retired Lowell Superior Court Judge Robert Barton, who presided over the trial, has said on numerous occasions that the gruesome details of the case will stay with him forever. And after hearing of this latest bid to reduce LaPlante’s sentence, Barton told the newspaper he would have sentenced LaPlante to death if he could have.
That would have been a fate justly deserved.
But again, as unthinkable as it may seem, LaPlante has been given another day in court to plead for an earlier release date, courtesy of the state’s highest court. That body ruled in 2013 that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life in prison without parole, citing research that indicated their brains had not yet fully developed, thus apparently making it impossible to declare they’re beyond rehabilitation. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled that automatically sentencing juveniles to life without parole is unconstitutional.
These decisions, the effects of which were retroactive, has again put the SJC in the position of either denying or granting LaPlante’s petition.
At a 2017 resentencing hearing, Middlesex Superior Court Judge Helene Kazanjian sided with the state, and ordered LaPlante to serve at least 15 years in prison for his three life sentences. LaPlante would be eligible for parole in 2032.
We were encouraged to see that Justice Scott Kafker brought up on Tuesday that two years ago, as a 47-year old, LaPlante was diagnosed with anti-social personality disorder along with a tremendous lack of empathy.
For the court’s purposes, though repugnant to everyone else except LaPlante and his counsel, the potential for parole at age 62 doesn’t constitute a life sentence.
LaPlante should remain incarcerated until at least that time. That’s the only ruling the SJC can make.