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TEEN killers of British toddler get parole hearings

LONDON (AP) _ Two teen-agers who were 10 when they tortured and killed 2-year-old James Bulger go before parole boards this week to determine whether they should be freed.

Both young men, now 18, have served the minimum eight years of their sentence at a detention center.

Jon Venables' board interview was set for Monday at a secret location. He could be freed within days if the panel decides he is no longer a risk to the public.

Robert Thompson was expected to attend a separate meeting Wednesday. There was no indication of when a decision would be made.

Thompson and Venables lured the toddler from a busy shopping center in Bootle, near Liverpool, on Feb. 12, 1993. They dragged the child to a railway line 2 miles away, beat and stoned him to death, then left his body on the tracks.

The pair were tried as adults, convicted of murder and ordered to serve at least eight years. The sentence was later increased to 15 years by the home secretary in a previous Conservative government, but in October a judge restored the original sentence, making them eligible for parole this year.

The teen-agers have been granted an open-ended High Court injunction protecting their anonymity when they are freed with new identities.

Judge Elizabeth-Butler Sloss ruled in January that the news media may not disclose the new identities of two teen-agers because she was convinced they would be in danger if the public knew who they were and where they lived.

``These young men are uniquely notorious and are at serious risk of attacks from members of the public as well as from relatives and friends of the murdered child,'' the judge said.

Ralph Bulger, father of the murdered child, said last year that he intended to seek revenge if he could find the men.

In February, a court rejected his bid to stop the killers' release, arguing that the eight-year minimum sentence was so low that it threatened to ``undermine confidence in the criminal justice system.''

But the High Court ruled that Bulger had no arguable grounds for his case.

Parole Board spokeswoman Ann Barker said late last week that she was not able to discuss the cases of the two teen-agers as the board is ``abiding by the spirit and the letter of the injunction.''

Speaking about paroles in general, she said that when a board orders a release, ``There is absolutely no rule as to how long that can take _ it can be anything from days to months.''

Members of the parole panel will see psychiatric and other reports from the trial and up-to-date reports from doctors and criminologists. They will also review the killers' school records and consider any further offenses that may have taken place during their detention.

The panel members must consider whether it remained necessary to detain the offender for the public's protection.
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