Judge Robert A. Barton, who gave Donovan his life sentence 16 years ago as Donovan's Rindge and Latin peers watched from the gallery, reflects similar sentiments. "If somebody didn't hold the weapon, then he shouldn't have to rot in prison for the rest of his life," says Barton, who, in retrospect, believes that Donovan's sentence was harsh and should be commuted so long as he is rehabilitated.

Barton, however, admittedly felt differently in 1993. A Marine veteran who colleagues call "Old School," the judge was known for requiring his male jurors to wear neckties. Barton was himself a former Middlesex district attorney, and showed little mercy under the circumstances. To the overruled objection of Donovan's defense, Barton allowed the prosecution to utilize such physical evidence as the T-shirt Donovan wore on the night of Raustein's murder. McEvoy had no incriminating forensic use for the garment, but instead used the shirt's Black Death Vodka logo to attack Donovan's character. Barton also denied a request from Donovan's defense attorney, James O'Donovan, for the trial to be moved. "The [Raustein] incident was the subject of massive pre-trial publicity by the news media," O'Donovan wrote in a motion for continuance. "The trial of this defendant of these particular charges at this time under present circumstances would deny him a fair and impartial trial."

Other elements of the trial proved Kafka-esque to Donovan. Though forensic evidence proved Donovan did not personally grab Raustein's wallet, for example, that was of no consequence, because, according to a later appellate court-case review, under the Massachusetts joint-venture theory, "the jury did not need to find that the defendant took the wallet himself, if he was willing and able to help the one who did take it." Experts testified that McHugh's were the only fingerprints found on the blade, and yet McEvoy was able to persuade jurors that Donovan had prior knowledge of — and even handled — the murder weapon.

The prosecution also succeeded in spite of Velez's witness-stand admission that there was no prior discussion between the three teenagers about ambushing Raustein and Fredheim. The jury's unanimous verdict was likely the result of other crucial parts of Velez's testimony — namely his unsubstantiated claim that all three boys had tried to rob the liquor store across from the Royal Sonesta Hotel, and that Donovan was aware McHugh had a knife.

Department of State Police spokespeople did not produce by deadline Velez's original six-page statement from the night of his arrest, for which months ago the Phoenix filed a formal request. But court documents confirm that his story changed between his Miranda-waived interview at the Lower Basin State Police bunker and his testifying at Donovan's October 1993 trial. (After four months of detailed inquiries, McEvoy decided he was ultimately unwilling to discuss the Donovan case with the Phoenix all these years later. Then–district attorney Reilly — who 16 years ago said the "only injustice" in the case was that McHugh was tried as a juvenile — also declined to be interviewed.)

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