Crime

Barry Massey, teen convicted in 1987 Steilacoom murder, to go free after 27 years in prison

A Pierce County man sentenced age age 14 to life in prison without parole for murdering a Steilacoom marina owner will be freed from prison next year after a series of legal changes paved the way for his release.

The state’s Indeterminate Sentence Review Board announced Thursday that Barry Massey will be eligible for release in February upon completion of a series of classes that teach inmates about behavior, problem-solving and social skills.

Massey, now 41, also must submit a release plan that is acceptable to the state Department of Corrections, including where he will live.

In making its decision, the board determined Massey, who’s served nearly 27 years in prison, is not likely to commit more crimes if set free.

“We’re grateful for the board’s faith in Barry,” said Maureen Devlin, one of the attorneys who represents Massey. “It is not misplaced.”

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said the opportunity for parole was required by a new law that went into effect after a landmark 2012 U.S. Supreme Court decision.

“I sympathize with the family, who are still struggling with the loss of a loved one, and I hope Mr. Massey uses this second chance to become a productive member of society,” Lindquist said.

Efforts to reach the widow of victim Paul Wang were unsuccessful.

Shirley Wang wrote a letter to the Pierce County Superior Court last year describing her ongoing pain at the loss of her husband.

“My late husband Paul would have been 69 years old this year, and we would be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary,” she wrote. “Instead, he is in a grave and I am alone.”

Massey was 13 when he and co-defendant Michael Harris, then 15, attacked Paul Wang in his shop in 1987, shooting him twice and stabbing him multiple times during a robbery. They then stole cash, candy and fishing equipment from Wang’s business.

The case attracted national attention because of the brutality of the crime and the age of the offenders.

The boys were prosecuted as adults, convicted of aggravated first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Massey twice sought relief from the state’s Clemency and Pardons Board. He, his attorneys and supporters argued that he was an impressionable child at the time of the crime and had grown into a responsible man in prison.

Wang’s relatives and prosecutors countered that Massey deserved his original sentence and that setting him free would be an injustice.

In 2006, the clemency board voted 4-1 to recommend to then-Gov. Chris Gregoire that Massey’s sentenced be commuted to 25 years. Gregoire rejected the recommendation.

Massey tried again in 2010. That time, the board voted 3-2 to reject his request for clemency after it was revealed he’d begun a relationship with a corrections officer, a woman he later married.

Then, in 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision involving cases where juveniles received automatic life sentences, as Massey had.

Ruling in the case Miller v. Alabama, the nation’s high court said such sentences were unconstitutional because they constituted cruel and unusual punishment for people whose brains still were developing and who might not have the wisdom or judgment to always know the impact of their actions.

In 2013, the Legislature passed a law eliminating mandatory life sentences for juveniles convicted of aggravated first-degree murder. Instead, the law makes people convicted of the crime before they turn 16 eligible for parole after 25 years.

The law was made retroactive, which gave Massey an avenue to seek relief.

Harris also has petitioned for release under the new law. He has a hearing scheduled before the sentence review board in July.

There are 168 other similarly situated offenders who are eligible to petition for early release, the board reported Thursday.

Related stories from Tacoma News Tribune

  Comments