After dinner, Donovan laid down for what he intended to be a quick nap. He had promised to call some friends around 7 pm but overslept. When he woke up at 8 pm and couldn't reach anyone — not Kevin, not Eric, not Robert — he walked into the dusk to find them. He knew that his homeboys were not at a dance happening at Rindge and Latin — that wasn't their scene — but that was his only lead.

Donovan's first stop was Costa Lopez Taylor Park, his regular hangout just steps away from his Charles Street home. He had spent most of the recent summer months with his father, Joe Sr., just over I-93 in Charlestown, but Donovan still thought he knew where his friends might be hanging. With no luck at Taylor, he walked one block to Hurley Park, and then another block and a half to Ahearn Field, behind Kennedy Longfellow Elementary School on Spring Street. There, he ran into fellow East Cambridge natives Alfredo Velez and Shon McHugh (who Donovan claims he barely knew) drinking 40-ounce bottles of beer.

Though McHugh was a little more than a year younger than Donovan — and a mere 120 pounds, or 50 pounds lighter than Donovan — he was hardly intimidated by bigger guys. A few months before, the five-foot, two-inch sophomore staved off a group of kids who jumped him at an East Cambridge party, and days later bought a knife at Faneuil Hall for protection. Among friends, McHugh was known as an insecure street punk with a Napoleon complex; he earned that reputation two years earlier by assaulting a man with a metal bicycle seat when the victim had caught him stealing tire-valve caps, an act that landed him on probation. He was also known by some to have an amoral disregard for life; his first victim was a cat that he threw into the air and caught on his pocket blade.

Soon after Donovan spotted McHugh and Velez — the latter an 18-year-old high-school dropout better known as Junior who, at about six feet, 185 pounds, was slightly bigger than Donovan — that Friday, they decided that they needed more alcohol. Though police and prosecutors would later argue that Donovan conspired with McHugh and Velez to commit robbery, Donovan claims he knew the latter only from one occasion that prior summer, when Velez bullied some kids while playing basketball on Hurley Street. Donovan knew McHugh's older sister, Kerry, relatively well, though, so Donovan joined Velez and McHugh for an underage beer run.

On Donovan's advice, the three boys walked five minutes to a liquor store across from the Royal Sonesta Hotel in East Cambridge. The owners were immigrants, and, in Donovan's experience, rarely checked identification. But this night the clerks were extra cautious, and the trio of minors was turned away empty-handed.

From there, the plan switched, and the three boys headed back down Memorial Drive with plans to cross the Harvard Bridge and walk into Kenmore Square, where they figured it would be easier to buy alcohol. It was almost 9 pm, and since Donovan's mom enforced an 11 pm curfew — and he hadn't yet had a drink — he wanted to enjoy his next couple of hours.

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