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Somerville man convicted of killing friend's mom as teen asks for parole at 44

Somerville man convicted of murder of friend's mom at 15 is asking for parole
Somerville man convicted of murder of friend's mom at 15 is asking for parole 02:21

SOMERVILLE - A Somerville man convicted of killing his best friend's mother as a teen nearly three decades ago has asked for parole.

For more than four hours Tuesday, the Parole Board questioned Edward O'Brien about the grisly crime and his steadfast claim that he is innocent. 

"I will not be a threat to any community. I plan on being a positive influence wherever I end up in my life," O'Brien told the panel.

The 1995 murder of Janet Downing

O'Brien was 15 years old when prosecutors say he murdered Janet Downing in the summer of 1995. The single mom was stabbed and slashed 97 times. The grandson of Somerville's former police chief, O'Brien was an altar boy and lived across the street from the Downings. He became a suspect after police doubted his story that he had been mugged the same night as the murder.

O'Brien has always maintained his innocence. In 1997, a jury found him guilty and he was sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Years later, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that life without parole for juveniles is unconstitutional, making O'Brien eligible for release.

Tuesday was the first time the now 44-year-old has appeared before the parole board. The panel grilled him on the evidence, witnesses and his continued claim that he is innocent of the crime.

Parole for Edward O'Brien?

"My time in prison has not turned me into a negative, bitter or violent person. I made a commitment to myself to be the best person I could be no matter what my surroundings," O'Brien said.

O'Brien supporters and members of the Downing family packed the hearing room. Janet Downing's daughter Erin pleaded with the board to keep O'Brien behind bars.

"He has never shown remorse; he has never taken responsibility for brutally taking the life of a good and innocent woman," she said. The Downing family started an online petition opposing O'Brien's release.

The seven-member panel took the case under advisement, and a decision could be months away. O'Brien is also appealing his conviction. His family recently started a website detailing what they say are flaws in the evidence that was presented at his trial.

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