Psychotic Murder Convict Must Get State-Funded Pre-Release Plan For Parole Hearing, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rules

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A mentally ill man in state prison who pleaded guilty to second degree murder in 2004 is entitled to have state funds pay for a social-services advocate to put together a pre-release plan for his application for parole, the state’s highest court has ruled.

Quasim Hastings is indigent, and his mental illness qualifies him for services funded by the state government under the Massachusetts Constitution’s guarantee of “reasonable disability accommodations,” the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said in a decision published Monday.

Hastings was 18 when he shot to death a 20-year-old man who had gone with him and another man behind a convenience store in Pittsfield thinking he would have a fistfight with him, according to a July 2004 newspaper account in The Berkshire Eagle. The shooting occurred in April 2003, according to a Berkshire Eagle account around that time.

The shooting victim, David Killbary, had served two years in the Berkshire County House of Correction after pleading guilty to distributing crack cocaine, according to a March 2004 story in The Berkshire Eagle.

Hastings admitted shooting him in the chest with a .25 caliber pistol.

Hastings was later sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 15 years.

While in prison, Hastings has been diagnosed “with Major Depressive Disorder with psychotic features, Antisocial Personality Disorder, and Alcohol and Cannabis Disorders,” according to a brief filed on his behalf.

The pre-release plan, according to the lower-court judge who denied Hastings’s motion for state funds, is needed to address “his specific needs, including the need for intra-agency referrals, completion of psychosocial assessments, and coordination of specialized residential care,” a brief filed by the state Attorney General’s office on behalf of the Massachusetts Parole Board states.

The Massachusetts Parole Board in 2019 denied Hastings’s request for parole. He was eligible to apply again in 2023. In December 2023, the parole board denied his request for parole, citing his “tumultuous adjustment” during incarceration, which includes “approximately 66 sanctioned disciplinary reports,” “serious assaults on two corrections officers in 2015,” reports of “insolence, threat[en]ing behavior, and violence,” and evaluations at Bridgewater State Hospital that find him “primarily manipulative” and “feigning mental illness.”

He is eligible for another parole review in August 2026.

Hastings’s 2023 application for parole was hampered by a Superior Court judge’s refusal to order the state to pay for the social-services advocate. A different Superior Court judge had already ordered the state to pay $5,000 for a forensic psychologist to examine Hastings, according to the state Supreme Judicial Court’s decision.

But the second lower-court judge noted that a state statute (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 261, Section 27B) that allows the state to pay for legal processes in cases where a litigant can’t pay because he doesn’t have the money applies to a “proceeding or appeal in any court” but does not mention a parole hearing.

Even so, the state’s highest court ruled this week, the state must pay for Hastings’s social-services advocate in the parole hearing because Article 114 of the Massachusetts Constitution provides that “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any program or activity within the commonwealth.”

The state’s voters approved the constitutional amendment in 1980, by 66.5 percent to 33.5 percent.

Given the handicapped constitutional amendment, the state Supreme Judicial Court said it construes the state’s indigency statute “to authorize a Superior Court judge, on motion by a parole-eligible, disabled prisoner, to allow for the payment of funds for expert services that are reasonably necessary to safeguard the prisoner’s constitutional right to a parole hearing free of discrimination on the basis of disability.”

The case is Commonwealth vs. Quasim Hastings. It was decided Monday, May 13, 2024.


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