WOONSOCKET – The juvenile offender convicted in a 2010 stabbing that left an elderly man paralyzed has been excused from further prison time, but he must spend at least two more years in a mental health facility.
Jeremy Kerrigan was 16 years old when he stabbed Donald Paterson in the back, partially severing his spine. Paterson is now permanently disabled and his wife has become his full-time caretaker.
Though he was originally ordered to serve no less than 10 years of a 20-year sentence behind bars last March, Kerrigan was entitled to a sentence “modification hearing” before his 19th birthday, which comes in two days. Family Court Judge Kathleen Voccola issued a ruling Thursday following the hearing last week.
“Donald’s not happy,” said his wife, Trudy. “He feels as though the court is treating the boy for his illness rather than punishing him for the crime he committed.”
But Trudy said the modification of the sentence, however unsatisfactory, also brings some finality to an uneasy chapter in the couple’s lives that began nearly three years ago.
“It doesn’t change anything for us, but at least it’s over and done with and it’s a relief,” she said. “We’ve been going week to week and month to month, never knowing what was going to happen.”
Juveniles accused of unusually violent offenses generally follow one of two paths in the Family Court system. Either they’re tried as juveniles and held in a locked facility until they become adults, at which point they’re released; or they’re deemed so dangerous that the court cedes jurisdiction to Superior Court, where they face the same penalties as adults, up to life in prison.
Neither of those things happened to Kerrigan, according to Amy Kempe, spokeswoman for the attorney general. In his case, the court chose a sort of hybrid process in which the offender was “certified” as an adult and sentenced as one, with the proviso that the sentence was subject to review upon the arrival of his 19th birthday.
Kempe said Kerrigan will remain on probation for the full 20 years of his original sentence but the judge effectively ruled out any further jail time for him. Kerrigan has been held at the Training School since he was arrested and would have been transferred to the Adult Correctional Institutions had he remained in jail.
As further conditions of the sentence, the judge ordered Kerrigan to wear an electronic monitoring device for the first year in the mental health facility, where he is to receive counseling and treatment. Kerrigan is also prohibited from visiting anyone in the community unless he is escorted by supervisory staff or a probation officer.
Kempe declined to identify the facility, citing patient confidentiality.
“He’s going to be under strict mental health counseling and supervision,” she said. “They’re not just going to take a look at him when he’s 21, he’ll be on a treatment plan from the moment he arrives.”
Paterson was attacked in broad daylight on April 24, 2010, as he was walking home from a convenience store near his apartment in the Four Seasons complex on Diamond Hill Road. After canvassing the neighborhood with leaflets asking for help in identifying the assailant – Paterson barely got a glimpse of his attacker – police arrested Kerrigan about two weeks later on charges of assault with a dangerous weapon. Although they were neighbors, Kerrigan and Paterson did not know each other before the stabbing.
The crime dramatically altered the daily lives of the Patersons. Because Donald could no longer climb stairs they had to leave the Four Seasons and move into Kennedy Manor, a public high rise with an elevator. The Italian Workingman’s Club threw a fundraiser for the Patersons so they could buy a van to accommodate his wheelchair.
Now 77, the retired machinist and ex-Marine says he barely gets out of the house anymore and his wife Trudy must assist him with the most basic chores of everyday life.
“I’m adjusted to what I have to do but that's not easy because it’s my wife that has to do the same things every day,” he says. “She has to go to the store, she has to take care of me. I can’t get into bed without help, and I can’t get out bed without help. I can’t go to the bathroom without help.”
None of this would have ever happened if Kerrigan had been properly medically supervised in 2010, Paterson feels.
“He goes home and doesn’t take his meds. So here I am,” he says. “Go figure.”