Editor’s note: This story was chosen as one of our top 12 in 2010. We reported on Barry Massey’s and Michael Edward Harris’ clemency hearing before they occurred. On Dec. 16, both Massey’s and Harris’ petitions were rejected by the Clemency Board.
By Stacy Nguyen
Northwest Asian Weekly
More than 20 years ago, Shirley Wang’s life was irrevocably changed when a pair of teenage boys killed her husband.
On Jan. 10, 1987, 13-year-old Barry Massey and his friend, 15-year-old Michael Edward Harris, entered Steilacoom Marina and shot its owner, Paul Wang, in the chest, then in the head. They stole $140, candy, and some fishing poles. They also used a fishing knife to stab Wang seven times in the head and torso. Wang was 41 at the time.
Massey and Harris are currently serving life sentences without the possibility of parole. At the time Massey was convicted, in 1987, he was the youngest person in the United States to be tried and convicted as an adult for aggravated first degree murder.
Now, years after the tragedy, Shirley Wang is dealing with the possibility that Massey and Harris will be freed. On Dec. 16, two clemency hearings are scheduled in the senate Hearing Room 1 of the John A. Cherberg Building in Olympia. The hearings will take place in front of the Washington State Clemency and Pardons Board.
Massey has petitioned the clemency board to free him, partly on the grounds that he was very young at the time of the murder. He claims that he is rehabilitated.
In a letter to the clemency board, Shirley Wang wrote on Dec. 1, “I find it heartbreaking that the person responsible for destroying my family now wants mercy for his actions of 23 years ago. … And the fact that the clemency board is even willing to hear his plea speaks of a greater mercy for him than for my family.”
Asking for clemency in 2006
Over the years, Massey and his attorneys have tried to get his sentence reduced. In 1991, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal from Massey, which argued that his sentence was cruel and unusual punishment.
Four years ago, Massey went in front of the clemency board for the first time. On Oct. 30, 2006, the board voted 4–1 to recommend to Gov. Chris Gregoire that Massey be released in 2012, after serving a total of 25 years.
In 2006, Massey’s attorneys, Beth Colgan, Brendyn Ryan, and Charles Sipos, released the following statement: “Barry Massey was only 13 years old with the mental age of 9.9 years at the time of the crime for which he was convicted. … Evidence was presented showing that Mr. Massey did not intend to harm anyone and that his co-defendent was the one who shot and stabbed Mr. Wang.”
His attorneys also stated that Massey has dedicated his life to preventing other children from committing crimes. Over the previous 10 years, Massey spent several days a month speaking to at-risk youth about the consequences of bad choices.
In a 2005 letter to the clemency board, officer Robert Moser, from the Monroe Correctional Complex Washington State Reformatory, stated, “Of all of the programming Mr. Massey has participated in, none is as important as the youth program he leads each week. This program’s sole purpose is to educate kids about life behind bars and keep them from making the poor choices that may send them to prison. Who knows how many kids Mr. Massey has saved from his own current situation. It would have been easy for him to do the time and not care, but instead, he has reached out to help and educate people.”
Gregoire denied clemency. A letter from Gregoire’s general counsel, Richard Mitchell, to one of Massey’s attorneys stated, “The governor carefully considered Mr. Massey’s petition and the board’s recommendation, but arrived at a different conclusion. I regret to inform you that his request for a commutation has been denied at this time.”
The Wang family
When Wang’s husband was murdered, she went from being a housewife in Bellevue to being the sole breadwinner for her two children, who were 8 and 11 at the time. While mourning the sudden loss of her husband, Wang learned English and the marina business.
In a letter to the clemency board in 2006, Wang’s daughter, Elissa, wrote, “And my dad was not the only victim. My mother lost her husband and was forced to take over the marina and take a second job doing physical labor. My brother and I, we lost not only our father, but also our mother, who had to work late. At age 11, I was forced to learn to cook and run a household.”
Cindy Baij, who is Wang’s
spokesperson, said, “In the contact that you have with Shirley, her pain is so apparent. It’s heartbreaking. Not only is she dealing with the loss of a husband and father, she’s also dealing with [clemency hearings] every few years. It’s very hard on all of them.”
The family’s petition
The Wang family is requesting that those who think Massey should not be granted clemency should visit www.barrymasseykiller.com and sign a petition.
“Please sign it,” said Baij. “And we request that people pass it on. We feel that this clemency hearing is an attempt to subvert the entire legal system. Barry Massey has exhausted every legal attempt at appeal up to, and including, the United States Supreme Court. They have reviewed his case and refused to hear it because it has no merit. … All the decisions have been upheld. [Massey’s] lawyers are retrying the case in front of the clemency board, and it really angers the Wang family.” ♦
Stacy Nguyen can be reached at email@example.com.