It Makes No Sense

August 6, 2009
The Honorable Governor Deval Patrick
Boston, MA

Dear Governor Patrick,

I have written to you in the past and, I am sad to report, have received absolutely no response to my request for your attention to a matter, quite literally, of life and death.

I am writing to you again concerning a man who for over 37 years has been a resident of your state's prison system, serving a sentence of life without parole, even though there was, by the trial judge's own admission, no witness and no physical evidence against him. How can that be?

I am writing to ask you how it can possibly serve the interest of the people of Massachusetts to pay taxes to continue to imprison a man who has served more time incarcerated than most murderers do who have admitted they are guilty. I don't understand where the justice is or how it makes any sense to continue to detain someone who is no threat to society. I don't understand detaining someone at the taxpayers' expense when an alternative exists that would cost the state absolutely nothing.

I am speaking of Mr. Joe Labriola, now detained at the Medium Security Institution in Shirley, Massachusetts. He is a former Marine, veteran of the Vietnam conflict, and multiply decorated for bravery for his time in the service. He was accused of murdering a man who was a drug dealer and known police informant. Joe will freely admit that he knew the victim and had made a marijuana deal with him on the day he was murdered. What Joe wholeheartedly denies — even after all these years — even though a change of plea could quite possibly free him from prison — is that he killed the man. I believe him.

A lot of other people believe Joe is innocent also. Some of those people are willing to guarantee Joe a home with food, medicine, and hospice care so that he can live what little time he has left with compassion and dignity. Something he earned a long time ago but has never received. It seems obvious to me and to so many others that Joe was convicted solely due to the fact that he was a Vietnam veteran at a time when our country was propagandized into suspecting them all of being crazy "baby killers." As I said, there was no physical evidence in this case.

Last year, Joe put in a petition for a hearing to be considered for a mercy commutation of his sentence. He is in the later stages of emphysema, requiring oxygen and a wheelchair. He also suffers from shrapnel wounds he received from his experiences in the battlefield. Joe's petition was denied because he had been the unwitting (and unwilling) recipient of a dose of methadone that had been slipped into his coffee by another prisoner. The guards caught wind of this "joke" and brought Joe in for a urine sample, which he gave freely believing himself to be free of any substance. The test came back positive and Joe was put into segregation. Joe received a disciplinary report even though the perpetrator of this "joke" signed an affidavit stating that he had done it and that Joe knew nothing about it. The prison's response is that because the control substance was found in Joe's urine, that made him in possession of a controlled substance. Catch 22.

As is all too often the case with people in similar situations, Joe "copped a plea" pleading guilty to the charge so he could get out of segregation for time served and get back to the medical care he desperately needs. His petition for a hearing was turned down because he had received a disciplinary action.

It has also been held over him that over the course of Joe's time in prison he tried to escape. Wouldn't you? If you were an innocent man with a life sentence with no chance at parole, wouldn't you grab any opportunity to make a run for it and try to make a life outside of prison? Or would you just hang yourself as so many others have done or died trying to do? From what I hear, there's a lot of that going around in the Massachusetts state prison system. Why is that? I believe it is absolute hopelessness.

I am writing to you about just one prisoner, my friend Joe, because I hope you will care to find out more about his situation. You can find out more by going online and checking out a website put together by friends of Joe. That website ( contains testimony from people who have direct knowledge of the facts of this case.

I hope you will assign someone to look into this matter and that you will help to get Joe the justice he deserves. I am available to talk with you should you choose to call me. Thank you for your time and attention. I expect and look forward to hearing from you or a designee.


Joyce Katzberg
Warren, RI 02885

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