A Plea to Come Forward
Judge Judd Carhart
Northampton District Court
15 Gothic Street, Northampton, MA 01060
July 16, 2009
Dear Judge Carhart,
My name is Karen Schulman, and I am working with a team of distinguished citizens to accelerate the wheels of progress in the case of incarcerated Vietnam Veteran Joseph Labriola.
As you may or may not recall, you were an attorney in the District Attorney's office at the time of Mr. Labriola's trial in 1973.
On April 2, 2009, I received a letter from licensed mental health clinician, Pamela Brighton, who had spoken with you regarding your observations of Joe's trial many years ago at a conference in Minneapolis. At that time, you voiced your concern about the stigma that surrounds Vietnam Vets (stemming from the opposition to and unpopularity of the war). In addition, you had felt that the evidence against Joe was circumstantial, and there were no witnesses to corroborate the case.
Joe has numerous and severe health issues that have exacerbated over the years of his incarceration. He suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (severe emphysema and asthma) from Agent Orange exposure, has had a severe heart attack, and has chronic pain from his war wounds. His condition has deteriorated to the point that in 2009 we submitted a petition for commutation of his sentence to the Massachusetts Board of Pardons based on his failing health.
The clemency petition was turned down, and prominently cited in the board's decision was Joe's record of multiple disciplinary reports. These events are largely decades old and contain no physically threatening or harmful actions. But they do concern incidents of protest and often creative refusal to cooperate — and Joe would explain, "what man wouldn't rebel if he was innocent of a crime for which he was sentenced to life without parole?"
My purpose in writing to you is to seek your assistance in our commutation effort. We will be filing a second petition for commutation, and a letter in support from you could help us to get the Board to reconsider Joe's situation. In many respects, you are a last hope. All the legal professionals in Joe's case are deceased. Your voice might carry some weight and add some perspective to events that perhaps are seen as ancient history and are therefore easier to ignore.
Joe's trial shows a clear miscarriage of justice in a system that should work fairly for all. The website we have set up (www.FreeJoeLab.com) gives a thorough background of this case. Would you please be so kind as to look at the website and review for yourself the facts of Joe's case and current situation. We are preparing a packet for Governor Patrick of letters of support to accompany a new filing of Joe's commutation petition.
I wrote my first draft of this letter shortly after our nation's Independence Day. Joe fought proudly for our country and has not been able to enjoy the freedoms we take for granted. I sincerely hope you will use your memory of this case to help Joe acquire his much deserved freedom while he is still able to benefit from it.
Thank you for your time.
Karen Schulman and
The Joe Labriola Defense Team
171 Congress St.
Milford, MA 01757
We know that Karen's letter was delivered and accepted. No response from Judge Carhart has been forthcoming, however. Related to Karen's letter is the signed statement, copied below, from Pam Brighton, who talked with Judd Carhart in 1978 about Joe Labriola's case.
Wareham, MA 02571
April 2, 2009
To whom it may concern,
In 1978, I began work as a therapist inside the Massachusetts Correctional system and had occasion to work with Joe Labriola. In fact, I became the "Veteran's Lady" at MCI Walpole and Norfolk, as we organized therapeutic groups and services to address the many Vietnam veterans with PTSD who had ended up in prison rather than in a hospital.
In the early eighties, I had occasion to present at a conference entitled "Vietnam Veterans and the Law" held in Minneapolis. One of the attendees there was Judd Carhart, an attorney from Massachusetts. I talked with him about Joe Labriola's case, and he told me that he had been in the DA's office at the time of that trial, and he had been disturbed that the evidence seemed circumstantial and that the negative stigma around Vietnam veterans had been a major sway of the jury.
Pamela Brighton, LMHC