LYNN — The family of a teenager strangled 38 years ago in a bathroom at Pine Grove Cemetery is furious that George MacNeill, her convicted murderer and ex-boyfriend, could be granted parole.
In 1981, when Bonnie Sue Mitchell was 15 years old, MacNeill, 16 at the time, strangled her with a rope for several minutes in an abandoned cemetery outhouse. To make sure she was dead or would die if she tried to free herself, he tied her by the neck to the toilet.
Mitchell tried to protect herself by attempting to insert her finger under the rope, but MacNeill strangled her to death, according to a memo from the Essex County District Attorney’s office to the Massachusetts Parole Board opposing the parole.
Following his conviction, Mitchell’s family thought they would never have to deal with MacNeill again, but decades later, the U.S. Supreme Court and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found sentencing juveniles to life in prison without the possibility of parole unconstitutional.
MacNeill appeared before the Massachusetts Parole Board two weeks ago, and a decision on his fate could be anywhere from weeks to months away.
David Beals, Mitchell’s older brother, was the family member who identified his sister’s body in the cemetery. His memory on what she was like is fading, but that’s the image that remains burned in his brain. She was buried on his birthday, the day he turned 19 years old.
He doesn’t think MacNeill will get parole, but instead will be placed in an inpatient mental facility, with a possibility of release into the general public if he’s deemed better.
“There’s no way the way he’s walking and shaking back and forth that they were going to let him off,” Beals said. “I don’t know how much (of his mental illness) is fake and how much is real. Honestly, I don’t feel bad for him. Even if he is screwed up, I still want him to die. He’s still breathing and my sister is not.
“The only picture in my brain of my sister is finding her body. It’s burned in my brain. He did that. I have no feelings for him at all. I don’t feel sorry for him. If he died tomorrow, I’d be happy.”
Beals, 56, said the parole hearing was a sham. He believes MacNeill has some form of mental illness — MacNeill claimed anxiety and depression — but that he was faking the severity of it to sway the parole board in his favor. He said MacNeill also claimed not to remember pertinent details of the murder, such as the girl he killed Mitchell for.
During his murder trial, the defense team argued that MacNeill committed the murder to protect his pregnant girlfriend, Tracy Mullarkey, 14 at the time, saying Mitchell had allegedly threatened her and had her beaten up, according to the DA’s memo.
According to the DA’s office, MacNeill spent the first 21 years of his life sentence in Bridgewater State Hospital and the balance in a residential treatment unit. The DA’s office opposed parole based on several factors, including his repetitive challenges to the conviction, which demonstrates he lacks remorse and does not accept responsibility for the murder.
To this day, Beals said MacNeill has never apologized to the family. During the parole hearing, he said MacNeill said he felt horrible about the crime three times. But Beals said the only thing he thinks MacNeill is sorry about is getting caught.
The day before the murder, MacNeill was deciding whether to stab or strangle Mitchell. He told several friends that he was going to kill her, displaying a rope and two knives, but they didn’t believe he’d go through with it. The next day, he lied to lure Mitchell to an abandoned outhouse in the cemetery, armed with a clothesline rope and gloves, according to the DA’s memo.
After the murder, he left Mitchell where she had fallen, between the toilet and the wall of the outhouse. He told friends he had killed her, and took some to the cemetery to see her body.
Beals said one of MacNeill’s friends told his father about seeing the body at the cemetery, which led to police discovering the crime.
He described his sister as young and confused. He said Mitchell thought she loved MacNeill, even though they technically weren’t together. She would have followed him anywhere. The only thing getting him through this process is praying that MacNeill gets denied parole.
“Bonnie wanted to be a nurse,” Beals said. “Who knows how many lives she would have affected if she got to be what she wanted to be? That’s all gone. She’s got nothing. She’s got a 4 x 9 box. He gets to live, eat and breathe everyday. It’s been 38 years. Unfortunately, my memory is fading on what she was like, but what I do have is claiming her body. That’s burned in my brain.”
May Hitaj, Mitchell’s niece, was 6 years old at the time of the murder. She said Mitchell was more than an aunt to her — she was her best friend and favorite person. She followed Mitchell everywhere.
Hitaj said Mitchell’s death was devastating to her. She didn’t want to spend time with anyone but her aunt, and when she was killed, Hitaj said it felt like her whole world came to an end and she was left all alone.
She described Mitchell as a beautiful, loving person who was full of life. Hitaj said her aunt was sweet, someone who was shy, but somehow outgoing at the same time.
“We’re really upset about (the possibility of parole),” Hitaj said. “When he went to jail, we figured he’d be in jail for life and we’d never have to deal with it again … I’m not in agreement with the law at all. He murdered her. He belongs in jail for the rest of his life. She doesn’t have a chance at life, so why should he?”
According to the law, in Massachusetts, juvenile offenders convicted of first-degree murder are eligible for parole after 20 to 30 years in prison.
Elizabeth Caddick, MacNeill’s defense attorney, declined to comment, saying she was not comfortable talking about the specifics of the case.