Triple Murderer Seeks Sentence Change Before State’s Highest Cour-
Jan 27, 2019 03:22AM
● By Lisa Redmond
Daniel LaPlante (Photo courtesy of CBS Boston)
BOSTON – Convicted triple murderer Daniel LaPlante, whose 1987 premeditated killings of a Townsend mother and her two young children shocked the Merrimack Valley, will ask the state’s highest court to change his sentence so he has a chance to “participate in society” before he dies.
Attorney Merritt Schnipper, who represents LaPlante, will ask the state Supreme Judicial Court on March 5 to overturn Superior Court Judge Helene Kazanjian’s March 2017 ruling. Kazanjian rejected the defense’s bid to change LaPlante’s sentence so he would have been eligible for parole in 2017 after serving eligible for parole after 30 years.
Since his arrest shortly after the murders, LaPlante has spent 31 years behind bars.
Instead, Kazanjian resentenced LaPlante to three consecutive life sentences, each with a parole eligibility after 15 years or a total of 45 years. LaPlante, 47, will be eligible for parole after 45 years or when he is about 62.
In Schnipper’s SJC court brief, the defense attorney argues research suggests that inmates who were teenagers when they began serving life sentences are “unlikely to live past their mid-60s.’’
He continued, “A meaningful opportunity for release must afford juvenile offenders a chance to rejoin and productively participate in society, not merely leave prison in time to die outside it.’’
LaPlante, who was 17 ½ at the time of the murder, is serving three consecutive life sentences for the Dec. 1, 1987 rape and murder of Priscilla Gustafson, 33, and her two children – Abigail, 7, and William, 5 – in their Townsend home.
Priscilla’s husband Andrew Gustafson, who died in 2014, arrived home to find his wife, a nursery-school teacher, in a bedroom with a pillow placed over her head to muffle the sound of the gunshots when LaPlante shot her. Abigail and William were drowned in separate bathtubs in the house.
LaPlante broke into the Gustafson home prior to the murders to steal items. He returned on Dec. 1, 1987 with the plan to steal more items, but Priscilla Gustafson walked into the home with her children, surprising LaPlante. Theft turned to murder.
While a conviction of first-degree murder is a mandatory life in prison without parole, a 2013 decision by the SJC struck down life sentences without parole for juveniles as cruel and unusual because their brains have not yet developed, so they are less culpable than an adult. Instead, the court allowed juvenile murderers to become eligible for parole after 15 years.
Then in 2015, the SJC ruled that inmates, such as LaPlante, could ask a judge to impose concurrent life terms, which would have made LaPlante eligible for parole in 2017.
In her ruling, Kazanjian rejected LaPlante’s request saying he committed “three distinct and brutal murders…You left a family and a community devasted. The court finds that the maximum penalty is warranted.’’