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Survivor of '93 slaying victims opposes killer's early release

By Karen Florin

Publication: The Day

Published March 26. 2013 4:00AM
Bill could reduce juveniles' sentences by up to 50 percent

John Cluny walked out of a courtroom in 1995 thinking the teenager who killed his wife and 14-year-old son in their Norwich home would be locked away for the next 60 years, or at least for the rest of Cluny's life.

Now, the 69-year-old Cluny, who had come home from his machinist's job at Electric Boat on May 24, 1993, to find his wife, Elaine, and 14-year-old son, David, dead of gunshot wounds to the head, is not so sure.

In the past couple of weeks, he has traveled to Hartford twice to speak out against proposed laws that might enable convicted killer Michael Bernier, who was 15 when he committed the crimes, to be released from prison early. Bernier, a Boy Scout and altar boy, was a neighbor of the Clunys and friends with David Cluny.

Cluny said that over the years, he has stayed "right on top" of Bernier's status.

"There was an old saying when I worked at Electric Boat," Cluny said in a phone interview. "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. Well, so is the price of justice."

Bernier, now 35, is receiving time off his 60-year prison sentence for good behavior because he committed the crimes before the so-called "good time" law was repealed in 1993.

Earlier this month, Cluny spoke against a bill requiring courts to hold resentencing hearings in an effort to provide a "meaningful opportunity" for juvenile offenders serving life sentences to be released earlier. He said Bernier is one of 18 Connecticut prisoners eligible to get their sentences reduced by as much as 50 percent. The proposal resulted from U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including the Miller v. Alabama case from June 2012, which held sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders.

"If they cut his sentence 50 percent, he could get out in 10 years or so at 45 years of age," Cluny said.

Cluny and other crime victims spoke at a press conference Friday when the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a Republican proposal to repeal a 2011 law enabling inmates to earn up to five days a month off their sentences by signing up for in-house rehabilitation programs such as anger management or sex offender treatment.

"I voted against the law two years ago when it was passed, thinking, boy, this is a terrible law," said Len Suzio, a former Republican state senator from Meriden who organized Friday's press conference.

Then in June 2012, the so-called "Risk Reduction Earned Credit" program led to a tragedy that occurred just four blocks from his home, according to Suzio. Frankie "The Razor" Resto, a convicted robber who had been released two months earlier under the program, was charged with killing convenience store owner Ibrahim Ghazal.

""He walked into the convenience store, and after the owner gave him money, he shot him point blank," Suzio said. "It was truly stunning."

k.florin@theday.com

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