After serving more than a half of century in a Massachusetts prison for first-degree murder, Ramadan Shabazz, aka James Hall, could soon be granted clemency. A parole board could soon reduce his charges to second-degree murder, which would make him eligible for parole, wrote Adrian Walker in the Boston Globe.
“I really believe that clemency is so important and plays such an important role in our system,” Shabazz’s attorney Mia Teitelbaum said. “If we believe in clemency and the possibility for people to change, that’s him.”
Among those who support Shabazz’s application is Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who has written one of many letters supporting Shabazz’s release. Gates describes Shabazz as a “…truly exceptional individual who has consistently worked hard over many years to rehabilitate himself.”
In 1971, Shabazz and an accomplice shot and killed two security guards at a supermarket in Dorchester, Mass., a Boston suburb. During the botched robbery, Shabazz was high on LSD. His aim was to steal money to pay his drug debt to his dealer, according to the article.
While incarcerated, Shabazz earned a reputation as a soft spoken role model who participates in institutional rehabilitation programs. He was part of a program that works with the mentally ill patients, says the article.
During his long prison stint, Shabazz had changed his name and religion. He had educated himself and earned two college degrees. He has been a role model citizen and mentor to other prisoners, the Globe reported.
Shabazz and his family relocated from North Carolina to Boston when he was nine. After graduating from Jamaica Plain High School, he enlisted in the army and was sent to fight in the Vietnam War. Shabazz came home from the war as a heroin addict with post-traumatic stress disorder, like many other veterans.
“I was young, returning from Vietnam and strung out on drugs,” said Shabazz regarding his crime. “Two men lost their lives that day, and I can’t tell you how sorry I am. If I could do anything to bring that day back, I would. But I can’t.”
Another one of Shabazz supporters is Dr. Richard Parker, a physician with whom Shabazz impressed during his undergraduate studies. The Parker family stayed in weekly contact with Shabazz and advocated for his release for years. The Parkers pledged to support Shabazz with housing and employment if he is granted parole.
“He’s a full human being who I think will cherish freedom and the opportunity to look up at the blue sky and experience the world as most people experience it,” Parker told the Globe. “I will feel a tremendous sense of gratitude if he is successful and the Parole Board finds it within themselves to release him. I will feel that we have done something right for one human being.”
If Shabazz gets his life sentence commuted by the Parole Board, several hurdles would still have to be cleared prior to his release, including Governor Charlie Baker approving the commutation. Shabazz has hope on his side with the governor since Baker recently commuted the sentences of two long-serving prisoners. If Shabazz’s sentence is commuted, the door to freedom could be just around the corner.