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Former Amherst soup kitchen worker Donald Perry remains jailed

For family, friends and acquaintances, an effort to get Perry out of jail is coming through a petition they plan to send to the Massachusetts Parole Board prior to his parole hearing March 12. The hearing takes place at 2 p.m. at 12 Mercer Road, Natick.

Using change.org, Perry’s girlfriend Elaine Arsenault of Montague, started a petition that has drawn nearly 800 signatures from people.

The petition reads: “We respectfully request that you make the right decision and immediately release Donald. This petition is in full and complete support of Donald Perry’s release. It’s time for Donald to come home to us now.”

The petitioners note that when Perry was arrested in August 2011, he was accompanied by a hitchhiker, a homeless man who left behind his possessions, which included the stolen items.

The arrest came after a resident whose iPad was stolen alerted state police to a tracking device in the iPad. This led to the stop of Perry’s vehicle by state police in Northampton and the discovery, inside his vehicle, of a black bag containing the stolen iPad, as well as a laptop computer.

Perry was employed as program manager at Not Bread Alone and as project coordinator for the Single Room Occupancy Outreach Program in Northampton.

Despite that, and spending nearly a year in jail awaiting trial, he was transferred to the state penitentiary at MCI Shirley. He remains there because in 1983, he received a second degree life sentence for an armed robbery.

“Donald now finds himself still incarcerated and at the mercy of the parole board for his freedom,” Arsenault writes.

Perry spent 18 years and seven months in prison, with a record that included the armed robbery, along with assault on a police officer and minor larceny charges. He was released in 2001. The parole department filed a detainer on Perry shortly after his arrest in the Leverett burglaries, allowing the state to maintain custody of Perry. In September, two months after the jury rendered its decision, a hearing was held and his parole was revoked.

Caitlin Casey, chief of staff for the parole board, said the review hearing will take place before the six current board members. Perry will be allowed to make an opening statement and his supporters will be able to provide information to the board.

The decision usually comes in one of two forms, either denied or paroled, Casey said. Under the denied scenario, the parolee can be given anywhere from a one- to five-year setback, depending on severity of the case, before another hearing is held.

If the parolee is paroled, a vote is taken under which conditions of release are set, Casey said. The person can be released more quickly if there is a stable family situation outside the jail.

Casey said it typically takes several months to write the full decision of the parole board.

Among those who have signed the petition are Joanne Sunshower of Shutesbury, who volunteered at Not Bread Alone with Perry.

“Don was a great cook, supervisor, and guardian, making sure that volunteers from area faith communities and schools were well organized, the food fresh and delicious, and everyone who came in was welcome,” she wrote.

Legacy Comments7

Donald Perry's alibi, that a hitchhiker left the things in the car, is the most common one used by professional theives when caught with stolen merchandise. Furthermore, the state highway patrol car was immediately behind Donald Perry when the fictional hitchhiker jumped out of the car and ran away, unseen by the state highway patrolman. It is confusing why the jury did not convict. Perhaps because they were afraid of the resulting life sentence? Racial prejudice? But it was clear this man is dangerous, robbing two houses on that night alone while people were in the houses sleeping. Protect our community and keep Donald Perry in prison where he belongs. bill

It is routine for the Parole Board to issue a retainer whenever a parolee is arrested. When the criminal charges are resolved by whatever means, the Parole Board then considers the parole violation. In this case, despite the acquittal, Mr. Perry is being held for possessing the stolen computers. Unlike in a trial, the parolee is not presumed innocence and the burden of proof for a parole violation is minimal. It's not just the acquittal that distinguishes this case - it's Mr. Perry's strict compliance with parole requirements, his proven drug and alcohol free life, his commitment to charitable work and the massive community support he has enjoyed throughout his tribulations that are present such a strong picture of innocence. As one familiar with the system, I believe the Parole Board will be convinced of Mr. Perry's innocence and release him from prison on parole. Safe home, Mr. Perry.

"The petitioners note that when Perry was arrested in August 2011, he was accompanied by a hitchhiker, a homeless man who left behind his possessions, which included the stolen items." This is not a fact, but his excuse as to why the stolen item(s) were in his car. Oh, and he didn't bother to explain that until the day of the trial.

I don't know if the police did their job, but it would be easy to determine if Mr. Perry's finger prints were on either the iPad or the computer, if other items were in the bag/sack, his DNA could prove if it was his. It seems that we have a man that is rehabilitated, let him out for God’s sake.

"Not guilty" doesn't mean he's innocent.

What is the parole violation that he's in jail for? That seems like a pretty big hole in this story.

For being a humanitarian.

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