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Parole Board reviews soup kitchen worker Donald Perry’s case

Don L. Petigny-Perry, of Springfield, sets out food for volunteers Wednesday at Not Bread Alone in Amherst

Don L. Petigny-Perry, of Springfield, sets out food for volunteers Wednesday at Not Bread Alone in Amherst Purchase photo reprints »

A former soup kitchen worker could remain in prison for another six months or more before the state Parole Board decides whether to release him.

Donald Perry, 58, a former coordinator of Not Bread Alone in Amherst, pleaded his case during a Parole Board hearing last week in Natick. He was surrounded by dozens of supporters advocating for his release.

In August 2011, while on parole, Perry was arrested on charges of possessing stolen property from two Leverett homes. He spent nearly a year in jail before a jury found him not guilty in July 2012.

At last week’s hearing, Assistant Hampden District Attorney Diane M. Dillon urged the board to be cautious in deliberating on Perry’s case. She noted his criminal record, including his time on parole.

Perry had been convicted on armed robbery and other felony charges in Hampden County in 1983.

“He’s being incarcerated for all of the many robberies he committed in Hampden County,” Dillon said in a telephone interview.

She said Perry had been granted a “very precious privilege” by getting parole on two earlier occasions. She said there’s no question he has done good work in the area, but asked the Parole Board to use caution in assessing his credibility.

“He has the keys to his future in his hands,” Dillon said. “He just has to behave.”

After his trial in 2012, Perry was transferred to the state penitentiary in Shirley, where he remains incarcerated. Despite being found not guilty, the charges brought against him constituted a parole violation, and his parole was revoked last October, according to the state’s Parole Board.

“He’s serving a life sentence, that’s why he’s currently incarcerated,” said Caitlin Casey, chief of staff for the Parole Board. “He accrued additional criminal charges.”

Perry received a life sentence in 1983 for an armed robbery for which he spent almost 19 years in prison before being released on parole in 2001. He was jailed again in July 2003 for parole violations.

After a review hearing in December 2003, he was released on parole the following month, according to the Parole Board.

Perry also sought to have the Parole Board terminate his sentence five years ago, a request that was denied in 2009.

Casey said it could take as long as six months before the Parole Board renders a decision on Perry’s case. Two members of the board were absent from the hearing, and they will need to review a recording of the proceedings and the case file separately, she said.

“We try to process them as efficiently as we can,” Casey said. “It does take some time.”

Dozens of supporters advocated for Perry’s release at the hearing, including his girlfriend, Elaine Arsenault of Montague, who presented the board with a petition that, according to the website change.org, was signed by more than 140,000.

W. Michael Ryan, a former judge and district attorney, also was one of four speakers who supported Perry’s release.

“I thought the hearing went well,” said Ryan, whose son, attorney Luke Ryan, is representing Perry. “It was certainly comprehensive. The Parole Board had done their homework.”

Ryan said those who spoke on Perry’s behalf “shared a picture of a Donald that is somebody who can be a safe bet for parole and deserving of parole at this time.”

“I talked about his history and how well he had done on parole and the contributions he had made to the community and the progress he had made,” Ryan said.

At the time of his arrest, Perry was employed as program manager at Not Bread Alone and as a project coordinator for the Single Room Occupancy Outreach Program in Northampton. He also was on the board of the Valley Community Development Corp. and had worked for several other social and human service agencies in the region, including ServiceNet Inc. and the former Hampshire Community Action Commission.

Dan Crowley can be reached at dcrowley@gazettenet.com.

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