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Convicted Murderer Barred from Mother’s Funeral Because of Horton Law

February 22, 1990 GMT

BOSTON (AP) _ A convicted murderer lost his bid to attend his mother’s funeral after a judge upheld a state statute passed in response to the Willie Horton case.

Superior Court Judge Robert Prince on Wednesday refused to grant an appeal by the American Civil Liberties Union to allow Philip Pennellatore to pay his respects on Friday to the woman he called his ″best friend.″

The ruling upheld a state law barring the temporary release of inmates serving life sentences for first-degree murder.

The law was passed because of the furor over Horton’s assault on a Maryland couple while on furlough - a key issue used by President Bush to cast doubt on Gov. Michael S. Dukakis during the 1988 presidential race.

Pennellatore, 29, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1982 for the 1981 killing of an 80-year-old retired librarian. He is serving a life sentence at the Old Colony Correctional Institute in Bridgewater.

Pennellatore originally asked for a court injunction to see his mother, dying of pancreatic cancer, on Feb. 5. Then he sought to attend her funeral. Nettie Pennellatore, 61, died Tuesday.

″It’s good prison management. It’s humane,″ said John Reinstein, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who represented Pennellatore.

Reinstein said Pennellatore and other inmates who have filed separate suits against the state Department of Correction argue that the Willie Horton law is an ex post facto law.

″It basically went back and imposed additional punishment on prisoners already convicted of crimes,′ Reinstein said.

Corrections Department spokeswoman Kathy Robertson said it would take a court order or special legislation to allow a convicted lifer out for any occasion. Only three other states in the United States have no furlough system, she said.

But the sponsor of the so-called ″Willie Horton statute,″ Rep. Larry Giordano, a Democrat, said he was not aware the bill banned prisoners from attending family funerals.

″I would have no problem with that,″ Giordano said. ″You only have one mother and father. Keeping first-degree murderers behind bars is important to me, but I have a little compassion.″

Maureen Donovan, who spearheaded the anti-furlough campaign, said she agreed with the policy.

″He was the cause of a funeral himself,″ said Donovan. ″If they let him out, they are breaking the law.″