MBA student member works for prisoners' rights through clinic

Issue April 2014 By Joshua Crawford

On Nov. 14, 2013, Derrick Sutton went before the Massachusetts Parole Board for the second time since he pleaded guilty to second degree murder and unlawful possession of a firearm in 1994. Sutton, a North Carolina native who became involved with drugs and street violence in Roxbury in his later teens, had turned away from the streets with the birth of his son. Then, in 1993, he fatally shot a former associate after a dispute between the two occurred earlier in the day. At this parole hearing, granting Sutton parole to a long-term residential program after one year in lower security, he was assisted by Northeastern University Law School student and SJC Rule 3:03 attorney Shannon Jurgens.

Jurgens, a student member of the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA), who wants to be an assistant district attorney after graduation, came to Sutton by way of Northeastern University School of Law's Prisoners' Rights Clinic. The clinic accepts 10 to 12 students and places them with an inmate serving life with the possibility of parole.

Jurgens, a Needham resident who did her undergraduate work at Boston College, took a year off after college to work in the Middlesex District Attorney's Office. Knowing what her ultimate goal was, Jurgens wanted a well-rounded law school experience and was attracted to the work of the Prisoners' Rights Clinic.

Every Friday, and sometimes both Wednesdays and Fridays, she would make the trip to Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) - Shirley and talk with Sutton for six to seven hours at a time. According to Jurgens: "I got his whole life story, his whole background. By about the third week, we got to the crime. When we were together we'd talk and prepare for the hearing, and how he was going to present himself."

But that wasn't the extent of the work she did. "Outside of my visits to see him I met with his family, his friends, people in his community. I went to the parole board and got his whole file. I went to the prison and got his whole DOC record. I did some outside investigation, legal research and a lot of psychology research given that he was 19 when the crime occurred."

All that work paid off in the end for Jurgens and Sutton. Of the 12 inmates up for parole represented by students in the Prisoners' Rights Clinic, only Sutton received it.

For Jurgens, membership in the MBA is all about learning. From networking with future colleagues to CLE classes, "The MBA seemed like the perfect way to meet lawyers who I can learn from, especially by reading the newsletters that go out and the opportunities to attend trainings and different events."