Behind bars for his entire adult life, ‘Mario’s Law’ namesake, 39, seeks chance for parole

State argues petition would nullify sentencing restrictions

By: - April 13, 2023 5:00 am
The exterior of the Frank Licht Judicial Complex in Providence.

It is up to Superior Court Associate Judge Stephen Nugent to decide if Mario Monteiro can receive a hearing before the Parole Board. (Photo by Christopher Shea/Rhode Island Current)

PROVIDENCE —  A 39-year-old man sentenced to serve two life sentences in prison for a murder he committed in 2001 when he was 17 years old deserves a chance for early release on parole, his lawyers argued in Providence Superior Court Wednesday.

But the state countered that a law that could give Mario Monteiro that chance does not apply to him.

Now it is up to Superior Court Associate Judge Stephen Nugent to decide if Monteiro — the namesake for a law passed by the General Assembly in 2021 known as “Mario’s Law” — can receive a hearing before the Parole Board. Monteiro has spent his entire adult life behind bars.

Under Mario’s Law, officially known as the Youthful Offender Act, inmates sentenced for a crime before their 22nd birthday are eligible for parole after serving more than 20 years.

Monteiro was convicted in 2002 for the July 2001 death of a Cambodian immigrant as the result of a days-long gang feud between the Providence Street Boyz and the Oriental Rascals gangs.

Monteiro was sentenced to life on the murder charge and a mandatory consecutive life sentence for discharging a firearm during a crime of violence resulting in death. 

But Monteiro has yet to be granted a hearing before the parole board. Calling it a “miscarriage of justice,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island is petitioning to give the inmate the chance they say he deserves.

Without any intervention, Monteiro is not eligible for parole until 2031.

“He’s being unlawfully kept back,” said Lynette Labinger, one of the attorneys representing Monteiro. “Right now, he’s being given the benefit of the opportunity to be paroled under Mario’s Law.” Monteiro has already been paroled for his first life sentence, according to the ACLU.

The Youthful Offender Act, passed by the General Assembly in 2021, is based on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition that juveniles lack full culpability due to their immaturity “even when they commit terrible crimes.”

A 2020 study shows that frontal brain regions, which are related to organization, planning, and inhibitory control, are not fully developed until the end of adolescence. During adolescence, there is an increase in behaviors that transgress norms and social conventions, peaking between the ages of 17 and 19 years, according to the report published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology..

Last year, ACLU intervention led to the release of Pablo Ortega, Joao Neves and Keith Nunes under Mario’s Law — all of whom the state had similarly argued were not eligible for parole. 

The state, meanwhile, interprets the law differently.

Special Assistant Attorney General Judy Davis argued to parole the mandatory charge would effectively nullify the terms of Monteiro’s sentence. “That is just an impermissible use of legislation,” she said.

Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU of Rhode Island, said that is far from the case.

“He will always be subject to life sentences,” he said in an interview. “The question is whether he serves them at the ACI or in the community.”

He will always be subject to life sentences. The question is whether he serves them at the ACI or in the community.

– Steven Brown, executive director, ACLU of Rhode Island

Davis also argued the law applies only to Monteiro’s “first” rather than to “any sentence.”

“Had the legislature intended to consider multiple crimes, they would have said so — they did not,” she said. 

After hearing both sides present their case, Nugent decided to take the case under advisory. A written decision will be released at a later date.

Monteiro’s aunt, Dee Jensen, said she is hopeful her nephew will get a chance to show he has changed. 

Attorneys note that Monteiro works as a mentor for new inmates and helps train service animals. He also has completed his GED, earned a 3.25 GPA at Community College of Rhode Island, and has received a full-time job offer from Garden Time — a Providence-based nonprofit that teaches gardening, horticulture, and other green industries to incarcerated people.

“He deserves it,” Jensen said. “He’s worked really hard.”


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Christopher Shea
Christopher Shea

Christopher Shea covers politics, the criminal justice system and transportation for the Rhode Island Current.