Warrington man who killed grandparents at 17 sees sentence reduced

DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (WPVI) -- A man who was 17 when he murdered his grandparents in their Warrington Township home in 1986 was resentenced last week to serve 45 years to life in state prison.

Richard Mazeffa, 50, who reportedly laughed when his life sentence was pronounced 32 years ago, showed no reaction when Bucks County Common Pleas Court Judge Rea Boylan imposed the new sentence on July 3.

The new sentence will make Mazeffa eligible for parole in 13 years.

The proceeding made Mazeffa the fifth of six inmates from Bucks County serving mandatory life sentences for murders committed as juveniles to receive adjusted punishments.

Each has received a reduction from Boylan that will give them a chance later in life to be paroled into the community.

Such proceedings are being held throughout Pennsylvania as a result of recent federal and state appellate court decisions.

Those decisions declared mandatory life sentences for juveniles to be unconstitutional, requiring new hearings to reconsider those sentences.

Mazeffaa told Boylan he is a different person from the angry teenager who committed acts he called "cruel, selfish and heartless."

He has the rare distinction of no misconducts in his 32 years behind bars, having spent much of his time reading nonfiction, playing chess and working in the prison library.

Mazeffa told Boylan he hopes to leave a post-release legacy for something other than his crimes.

"I wait for time to pass when the only mark I have made on this world is a scar," he said. "I hope that my life can count for more."

On July 14, 1986, Mazeffa grabbed a shotgun from his grandparents' garage, loaded it with birdshot, walked into the house and firing from the hip killed the couple with one blast each as they sat together in the living room.

Mazeffa's only explanation at the time: His grandfather, who had taken the teen in after a difficult home life with his parents, had ordered him to push his broken-down car out of the garage.

Mazeffa then tried to stage the scene as a robbery, cutting his grandfather's wallet out of his pocket, turning up the television volume and removing some jewelry before calling 911 in tears.

In a handwritten timeline of the murders and his subsequent arrest, Mazeffa wrote: "After being questioned for several hours I finally said to the question, Why?, Because 17 years of sh** really stinks.'"

Mazeffa's mother had committed suicide when he was three or four and he claimed to have been abused during his childhood.

His grandparents opened their home to him during his teenage years.

"They deserved peaceful lives surrounded by family, not an end of life at my hand," Mazeffa said. "I regret every facet of the damage I am responsible for ... I am ashamed that people who once cared no longer want to look at me."

Mazeffa's family stood divided over what should be done with him.

His eldest uncle, George Mazeffa, said he has "significant concerns about the safety of my family and the extended family" if his nephew were released.

Mazeffa's younger brother, Robert, said Mazeffa's emotionless bearing masks the shame and remorse he feels.

The co-owner of a West Coast software company, Robert Mazeffa said he would feel comfortable hiring his brother after prison, convinced he has learned to control and channel his emotions.

On cross-examination by Deputy District Attorney Marc Furber, Robert Mazeffa acknowledged "coaching" his brother on how to act in court, once telling him in a recorded prison phone call: "You need to put on a Hollywood performance without lying."

Mazeffa's father, also named Richard, said his son "understands the severity of the crime," but was noncommittal about how soon he should be released.

"There's no good answer," he said. "I'm a human being and [Boylan's] the judge. I'll say a prayer for her and wish her the best of luck."

Mazeffa's good behavior in prison had no ulterior motive said his attorney Burton Rose, since there was no hope for release until recently.

That changed in 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court held in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory sentences of life without parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

In 2016, the Supreme Court further held in Montgomery v. Louisiana that its findings in Miller should apply retroactively.

That decision meant more than 2,000 juvenile lifers nationwide would have to be resentenced.

In June 2017, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in Pennsylvania v. Batts that there is a presumption against imposing a sentence of life without parole for a juvenile offender.

The ruling placed the burden on the Commonwealth to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the juvenile offender is incapable of being rehabilitated before he or she can receive a life sentence.

Dr. Elliott Atkins, a psychologist who examined Mazeffa in May, testified that he found no mental disorders in Mazeffa, unlike a prosecution expert who examined him at the time of his original sentencing.

Atkins said that Mazeffa, whose I.Q. places him in the top 1 percent of the population, has coped with prison life by isolating himself from activities and other inmates.

"He copes with a lack of engagement, a passive solitude," Atkins said. "He has found a way to survive in jail by indifference to his social surroundings."

Atkins found a high likelihood that Mazeffa would be able to re-enter society successfully when released.

He explained the murders as the emotional act of an abused, suicidal teen who believed his grandparents wanted him out of their house.

"He told me that he felt he was once again being abandoned," Atkins said. "His grandparents were his last bastion of acceptance. He was very angry, fearful, suicidal; a terribly depressed person."

Furber questioned whether Mazeffa truly has the stability to control himself outside of prison, noting that Mazeffa grew anxious and irritable whenever he had to shift from a solitary prison cell to one with a cellmate.

Furber said that Mazeffa has rarely been willing to speak of his crimes or the reasons for them, and has only opened up slightly since the prospect of parole appeared.

"What we have here is someone who has not achieved any more understanding into how his actions have affected the family and the ripple effect" of the murders, the prosecutor said.

Furber asked the judge to impose consecutive sentences for each murder, arguing that the defendant was not entitled to a "volume discount" for the commission of multiple killings.

Boylan refused to run the sentences consecutively, saying that the murders occurred in quick succession and did not involve exceptional cruelty.

In imposing the sentence, Boylan said she considered Mazeffa's age at the time of his crimes, his lack of prior juvenile trouble, the impact of his childhood trauma and his initial lack of apparent remorse for his crimes. She also noted his trouble-free prison record.

The judge said that she is not sure how Mazeffa's handling of his emotions have changed since the time of the murders.

"What I do know about the defendant is that he has not acted out in any way" during his decades in prison, she said.

Boylan imposed concurrent 45-year to life sentences, one for each murder, and ordered that Mazeffa receive psychological treatment prior to becoming eligible for parole.

She also ordered him to have no contact with all members of his family who do not want to see or hear from him.
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