BOSTON – Outside the Statehouse last June, 75-year-old Alice Saich didn’t know if she’d made an impact, only that she’d tried.
The Uxbridge great-grandmother had sat nearly four hours in a crowded auditorium to say her piece, hoping her words – a plea for a strengthening to criminal record law in memory of her murdered son – would strike a chord.
With so many in the room arguing for softening criminal justice laws, Ms. Saich worried, as she got into her daughter’s car, that her voice could get lost. She wondered if the strain caused by years of speaking of her son’s brutal murder – he was stabbed more than 130 times in 2003 – would ever be remunerated with the change she sought.
Friday, she sat in the Statehouse again – her heart still heavy with thoughts of her son, Stephen Reid – but with the knowledge she’d accomplished something in his memory.
With the stroke of his pen Friday on the omnibus criminal justice reform bill, Gov. Charlie Baker also signed into law a provision that will ensure that murderers found not guilty by reason of insanity will have their crime listed on all background checks.
Standing in the crowd of mostly press and aides was Ms. Saich, and held high in her hands was a framed photograph of her son.
“I wanted everybody to know this is in memory of him," she said Saturday. "And I want the public to understand they are a little bit safer now that this has been passed.”
Previously, a finding of not guilty by reason of insanity for murder was not something to which all potential employers had access, a fact that chilled Ms. Saich and sparked a dogged pursuit of change.
For years, the assertive retired nurse hounded legislators for action, attending office-hour visits, sending letters and making phone calls. She spent hours collecting signatures from the public – at grocery stores, in her housing complex - buoyed by a sense that everyone she talked to agreed the public was at risk.
While there are still a number of reforms Ms. Saich believes are needed, a “major public safety issue,” as she put it often, has now been addressed.
“It was a great accomplishment, all of us working together to get this through,” Ms. Saich said, thanking a list of legislators who lent a hand.
State Rep. Joseph D. McKenna, R-Webster, and state Sen. Ryan C. Fattman, R-Sutton, succeeded in passing the measure as an amendment to the omnibus bill last fall. State Rep. Kimberly N. Ferguson, R-Holden, has for years filed a bill that included the provision as part of broader proposed changes, while state Sen. William N. Brownsberger, D-Belmont, also gave support.
“It’s really touching and inspiring to see someone find the strength deep down, muster that strength and then channel it into making a positive difference for people,” said Mr. Fattman, who made an impassioned speech on Ms. Saich’s behalf on the Senate floor last October.
Mr. Fattman was at home with his 22-month-old daughter Hadley Friday when he found out Mr. Baker had, with just several hours’ notice, decided to sign the criminal justice bill.
He called his parents to babysit, drove to Uxbridge and picked up Ms. Saich, then managed to get her inside the room for the bill’s signing.
“He was the best escort you could want,” said Ms. Saich, thanking him for his consideration and advocacy.
Worcester District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr., who wrote a letter urging lawmakers to support the amendment, saluted Ms. Saich for her efforts.
“You applaud the families for getting involved,” he said, and for reliving their grief to try and spare others the same pain.
Mr. Early, who practiced mental health law for 17 years, is supportive of other reforms Ms. Saich has pushed, including a 10-year minimum commitment for mentally ill people who commit murder, along with probation for them after release.
Under current law, people found not guilty by reason of insanity can be released in less than a year if deemed rehabilitated, and there are no requirements they check in with probation.
Mr. Early said a lot of people who are eventually deemed stable require medication, making it a serious concern that they would not be monitored.
Mr. Fattman said the probation issue is one he intends to take up next. Ultimately, he said, he would like to do something Ms. Saich originally proposed – changing a “not guilty by reason of insanity” verdict to “guilty but insane” – though he and Mr. McKenna realize that could take time.
“I know that for her and her family, there’s still not the closure (of a guilty verdict),” said Mr. McKenna.
Ms. Saich said the trial of her son’s wife, a mentally ill woman who stabbed the 39-year-old all over his body as he pleaded for mercy, brought no justice.
“I was not allowed to make a victim impact statement,” she recalled, by virtue of the “not guilty” verdict.
Ms. Saich said she hopes to continue fighting for more reform, thanking her daughter, Nancy Reid-Stockwell, for helping her over the years.
“Before I go to bed at night I think about it. When I wake up in my morning I think about it. It’s something you will never get closure on,” she said of her son’s death.
A friend told Ms. Saich her son was looking down on her Friday and smiling at the work she did in his honor.
“I know he’s up in heaven,” Ms. Saich said. “And that’s where I find peace.”
Contact Brad Petrishen at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BPetrishenTG.