Man convicted in 1972 Newburyport murder seeking medical parole

Aug. 23—NEWBURYPORT — One of the three men convicted of stomping and beating a popular Newburyport florist to death almost 50 years ago is now asking the state's highest court to release him on medical parole.

Wayne Hicks, now 85, has been serving life without parole in the murder of Norman Welch, 55, in December 1972.

Numerous efforts at a new trial, including petitions to federal judges and efforts to obtain a commutation of his life sentence, have proven unsuccessful. Then, last year, Hicks filed a request for medical parole.

Hicks cited recent bouts with COVID and a case of pneumonia, along with underlying diabetes, high cholesterol, and vascular disease, as reasons why he should be released from MCI Norfolk under the 2018 medical parole law.

After the Essex District Attorney objected and the state's Commissioner of Corrections denied the request, Hicks appealed in Suffolk Superior Court.

Judge Janet Sanders concluded earlier this year there was no basis to overturn the commissioner's denial, finding there was no indication Hicks was terminally ill and there are still valid reasons to consider Hicks dangerous.

Now Hicks' attorney, Kelly Cusack, is asking the state's highest court to hear a direct appeal of Sanders' decision.

She argues that the commissioner relied on a report by a nurse practitioner and not a licensed doctor (though Sanders noted that a doctor did sign off on the report). She also argued that the Department of Correction failed to follow other procedural requirements, such as collaborating with the defendant on a release plan.

The Supreme Judicial Court has not decided whether to take up the case, one of several medical parole appeals it has been asked to hear since the law was enacted.

The SJC has taken up other medical parole cases, and next month will hear arguments in the case of James Carver, the 57-year-old man convicted in the 1984 Elliott Chambers rooming house fire in Beverly.

In court filings, Cusack points to the court's willingness to take up the Carver case as a reason it should also hear an appeal in Hicks' case.

Welch, who lived alone and never married, owned a greenhouse on Oak Street in what was then one of the city's poorest neighborhoods, the South End.

In a 1997 interview with the Daily News of Newburyport, Welch's nephew recalled his uncle making rounds each Saturday morning to collect the 50 cents or $1 a week people would pay him in installments for flowers they'd ordered for a wedding or funeral — and his uncle's distrust of banks.

A locksmith from the neighborhood, Stanley "Link" Morrison, had recently helped Welch open a strongbox after it became jammed. A few days later Morrison was drinking in a bar and let slip that the florist had a lot of cash in his home.

A local marijuana dealer named Bert "Beano" Abrahams overheard and soon enlisted Hicks and two other men, Perley J. Witham and Joseph Marshall Jr., to break in to steal the strongbox.

It turned into a robbery, during which the 118-pound Welch was beaten and tortured to death, his neck crushed by a foot.

In his appeals and request for commutation, Hicks now contends that he was simply the getaway driver — but he never raised that as a defense in his 1974 trial.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, by email at or on Twitter at @SNJulieManganis