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Custody Ends, Controversy Continues, in Child-Killer Case

March 17, 1992

BOSTON (AP) _ The Guardian Angels marched against him. A friend of his victim appeared on television swearing she would kill him. Radio call-in shows sounded a shrill chorus of contempt.

But on Tuesday, Matthew Rosenberg turned 23 and was discharged from a juvenile program where he had been held for molesting and drowning a 5-year- old neighbor.

″He hasn’t changed,″ the victim’s mother, Merril Lee, said Tuesday. ″Why should he get to go on with his life?″

Citing death threats, state officials refused to say where Rosenberg had been held or where he would go. All they would do was confirm at the end of the business day that he had been released.

State officials had exacted an agreement that he would never return to Massachusetts.

Rosenberg, held longer than any other juvenile in Massachusetts history, leaves a legacy of tough, new state laws against youthful criminals and continuing debate about the rights of victims - and offenders.

He was 14 when he admitted killing his Boston neighbor, Kenny Claudio, and could have been released at 18. But his captivity was extended three times on the grounds that he might kill again.

On Feb. 12, a judge refused to grant a fourth extension after four of five psychiatrists and social workers testified Rosenberg no longer is a threat.

″There should be no question that the evidence shows he has a right to be released,″ said Matthew Kamholtz, Rosenberg’s attorney.

Kamholtz added that ″there’s a desire on his part to leave the past behind him.″

That is not the goal of Rosenberg’s detractors.

″He gave up his rights when he took Kenny Claudio’s life,″ said Marilyn Abramofsky, a friend of Claudio family. ″Why should he have any rights?″

Abramofsky, who has repeatedly threatened to kill Rosenberg, picketed state offices Tuesday along with five members of the Guardian Angels.

Rosenberg was vilified repeatedly until public pressure prompted the state to seek a fourth extension of his time in custody. Authorities had tentatively decided to release him without additional delays.

The hearing ″would never have been held but for the publicity,″ said Kamholtz.

″The pressure that was put on was ungodly,″ said Martin Rosenthal, a supervising attorney at the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School.

″The question is whether the system that we have is going to bend and buckle every time someone feels that what’s been done is not right,″ said John Roberts, director of the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.

Anger also was directed at the Legislature, which made it easier for juveniles who commit violent crimes to be tried as adults.

″Public support, concern and outrage over the Rosenberg case added measurably to give our legislation the push it needed,″ said Robert Cordy, Gov. William F. Weld’s chief legal counsel.

As for Rosenberg himself, said Cordy, ″People get released from prison every day who have served their sentences. We don’t think it was justice, but his sentence is over. We certainly hope Mr. Rosenberg will never be heard from again.″