The Joe Donovan Project

A Documentary Film


A look at the law that got Joe charged with 1st Degree Murder

The Blog: Updates on the Film and Donovan’s Case

LEF Foundation Gives $5,000 in Support of JDP

LEF Foundation Awards $30,000 in Development Funds to New England Independent Documentary Filmmakers   The LEF Foundation is excited to announce 6 grants totaling $30,000 in development funds to New England-based independent documentary filmmakers. The LEF Moving Image Fund invests in innovative feature-length documentary films that demonstrate excellence in technique, strong storytelling ability, and originality […]

Donovan 1st Lifer Youth In Massachusetts to Have Parole Hearing

Yesterday, Joseph Donovan sat before the Massachusetts parole board for 4 hours and answered questions on his crime, rehabilitation, and readiness to re-enter society. He was the first juvenile lifer to seek release from the parole board after the state’s landmark ruling in Diatchenko v. Suffolk County DA. Donovan’s hearing is a story of local, […]

Donovan to Have Parole Hearing

Nearly 22 years after being incarcerated, Donovan will appear before the Massachusetts Parole Board sometime on May 29. This is Donovan’s first chance at being released from prison — until last November, he was still sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

No Life Sentences for Juveniles

In a landmark ruling released on Christmas eve, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found that life sentences without the chance of parole are unconstitutional for juveniles. This means that Joe Donovan must be given a meaningful opportunity for parole. Coverage at CBS. Coverage at Boston Globe (subscription required)

Mass SJC Hears Juvenile Resentencing Cases

On September 4th, The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court heard oral testimony from two cases that will clarify whether the Supreme Court’s Miller v. Alabama decision should be retroactively applied to all cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole in Massachusetts. You can watch the testimony from the two cases here and here. The opinion […]

Production Stills

The Issues

Cambridge, MA | September 18, 1992.

9:45 PM along Memorial Drive. An accidental brush of shoulders between strangers leads to an exchange of words. A spontaneous punch is thrown. A knife is pulled…

21 year-old MIT student Yngve Raustein is murdered as he walks with fellow Norwegian student Arne Fredheim along the perimeter of MIT’s campus, on the banks of the Charles River.

Three Cambridge teenagers — Joseph Donovan, Shon McHugh and Alfredo Velez are charged with the crime. Though they had only spent 15 minutes together before the incident, the Middlesex District Attorney decides to prosecute the case under the joint venture theory, holding all three teens accountable for first degree murder.

Shon McHugh,15, plunged the knife into Raustein without provocation. He is tried in juvenile court and receives a 20-year sentence. He serves less than 11 years in prison.

Alfredo Velez, 18, demanded Fredheim’s wallet after Raustein was stabbed. He took a plea bargain in exchange for his testimony against McHugh and Donovan. He pled guilty to manslaughter and armed robbery and was sentenced to 20 years. He served less than 10 years.

Joe Donovan threw the punch that knocked Raustein to the ground. Three weeks past his 17th birthday, Donovan was automatically tried as an adult under Massachusetts law. He was convicted of first degree felony murder and armed robbery. He received the mandatory sentence for that crime.

Life in prison without the possibility of parole. A natural life sentence.

Donovan has now served 22 years in prison, while Raustein’s killer, Shon McHugh, was set free more than a decade ago.

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the mandatory sentence of life without parole for juveniles (under 18) violates the 8th Amendment’s prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment. The Massachusetts Supreme Court must now decide what measures to take regarding inmates serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles.

Donovan now awaits finality. He hopes for re-sentencing or release for time served. His fate hangs in the balance.

This film tells his story.


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