Hopkinton murderer denied early release, but praised as “model prisoner”

  • Eric Windhurst (right) sits with his lawyer Mark Sisti in Merrimack County Superior Court recently. A judge ruled Tuesday that Windhurst, serving a 15-year sentence for second degree murder, will not be released early. JIM COLE/ AP file

Monitor staff
Published: 5/10/2016 7:40:51 PM

A Hopkinton man imprisoned for murdering his friend’s abusive stepfather in 1985 has been denied early release, but could still shave a few months off his sentence.

In an order released Tuesday, Judge Richard McNamara of Merrimack County Superior Court rejected the request from Eric Windhurst, who has about four years left in a 15-year sentence, saying a release now would detract from the goal of general deterrence. But McNamara hailed Windhurst as a “model prisoner,” and said he would be open to granting him earned time credits, in which inmates can knock a few months off their sentences through education and programming.

“While the court believes that it cannot suspend any of the defendant’s sentence at this time, in light of the circumstances of this case, (it) would be inclined to rule favorably on a request for time credit. . . . if recommended by the commissioner of corrections,” he wrote.

Windhurst carried out the deadly attack after a friend confided that she had been sexually abused by her stepfather, Danny Paquette. They concealed the crime for nearly 20 years, until the friend, Melanie Cooper, agreed to open up to authorities. Windhurst pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in 2006.

At a hearing last month, Windhurst apologized profusely to Paquette’s family, saying he could never shake the guilt of his crime. Supporters from the community called him a changed man and said they would not hesitate to welcome him back into their homes. Relatives of Paquette spoke out against the request, saying he had admitted to murder only after being ratted out.

Windhurst’s attorney claims Cooper manipulated him into carrying out the attack, and noted that she received a comparatively slim sentence – 15 months for hindering arrest. But state prosecutors countered that Cooper played no direct role in the killing, and said Windhurst’s real motive was outrage over having just discovered that his own father sexually abused his sisters.

Regardless, McNamara acknowledged that Windhurst has worked hard in prison to rehabilitate himself and prepare for life on the outside.

“While incarcerated, and subject to the pressures inside any prison to engage in violent and antisocial conduct, he continued to maintain social ties with his community, and continue to enhanced (sic) his skills as a woodworker, to the extent that many of the letters in support of a sentence reduction suggest that he would be readily employable when he is released,” McNamara wrote.

Windhurst has already completed job training and several nonviolence seminars in prison. It’s unclear whether he is already eligible for earned time credits, and if so, how much. He will have served his minimum sentence on Dec. 13, 2020.

If released, Windhurst had planned to live with his parents in Hopkinton.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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