PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — On Thanksgiving Day 1994, Sylvester Gardiner’s body was found below a highway overpass, his body was beaten so badly the medical examiner said if he was found any closer to the nearby railroad tracks, they would have guessed he was struck by a train.
Instead, the evidence pointed to murder, including the axe handle that was still impaled in his head.
Two days later police tracked down 19-year-old William Page and 17-year-old Michael Lambert. Court records show their original statements to police confirmed they beat Gardiner — who was homeless — to death after the victim yelled at them for throwing rocks in his direction.
Both assailants were eventually convicted of murder. Page was a given a life sentence without the possibility of parole, but because Lambert was a couple of months shy of turn 18 years old, his life sentence gave him the distant hope of freedom.
For years the men sought early release from prison using various legal strategies — including Page’s claim that he had ineffective counsel — but both superior and state supreme court justices upheld their convictions.
In 2019, Lambert caught a break.
A unanimous parole board voted that December to set Lambert free. Meeting minutes reviewed by Target 12 show the board noted “the gravity of the offense cannot be overstated.” But they highlighted that Lambert was under the age of 18 at the time of the murder.
“The board recognizes several mitigating factors in this matter, including Mr. Lambert’s age and maturity as well as home and community involvement at the time of the offense,” the board decided.
Interviews with detectives at the time of the murder indicate Lambert had been in and out of the R.I. Department of Children, Youth and Family system as a child.
The parole board also said he scored “low risk on our risk assessment” and commended him for “the numerous programs in which he has proactively involved himself.”
“He is appropriately remorseful,” the parole board determined, according to the meeting minutes state.
The board ordered him released the following year.
But it wasn’t until March of 2022 that Lambert would walk out of the Adult Correctional Institution.
Matt Degnan, a spokesperson for the parole board, said in an email that the R.I. Department of Corrections notified the board that Lambert also had a 10-year consecutive sentence for an additional weapons charge (he and Page pointed a BB gun at Gardiner prior to the beating, which looked like a handgun).
Lambert again sued the state, and a superior court judge eventually ordered Lambert released on March 18, 2022.
That same year, R.I. State Police detectives alleged Lambert, 46, and Gary Gromkiewicz, 35, of Lincoln, murdered Leila Duarte Da Luz. Police allege they threw her into an icy Coventry pond and a medical examiner said Duarte Da Luz was still alive when they put her in the water.
Prosecutors said Duarte Da Luz was two months pregnant with Gromkiewicz’s baby when she was murdered.
The accused met at the ACI; Gromkiewicz was serving time for a felony weapons charge. He was on probation at the time of the murder.
Page remains at the ACI.
Tim White (email@example.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.