Harrisburg, PA -
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced Monday that this week’s Pennsylvania Board of Pardons hearings will be held Wednesday, December 18 through Friday, December 20, to hear testimony and vote on 131 pardons applications and 15 life-sentence commutation requests.
Life-sentence commutations will be heard on Friday.
They include 59-year-old Pedro Reynoso, who has served 26 years of a life-sentence on a 1st-degree conviction for a Philadelphia double murder, despite his having compelling evidence of his innocence since his arrest in 1994.
Reynoso is client of the Pennsylvania Innocence Project and is the first case the pardons board will hear utilizing a new stream created for people who claim innocence.
Reynoso has numerous witnesses who place him out of the country at his son’s baptism on the day of the murders.
Ten people, including the priest who performed the baptism in the Dominican Republic, corroborated his story. Victim family members have agreed that Reynoso was not the killer.
In 2014, Reynoso was diagnosed with stage-3 colon cancer. He has an active deportation order to the Dominican Republic, which will be enforced if he is released and which is consistent with his and his family’s wishes.
Other upcoming cases include Philadelphia brothers Reid Evans and Wyatt Evans, 58 and 57 respectively, who have served 37 years for 2nd-degree murder because the man they carjacked died of a heart attack hours after they dropped him off at a payphone to call for help.
The ringleader of the robbery was approved for parole last year, but their 2nd-degree convictions came with a mandatory sentence of life without the chance of parole. They’ve served nearly 80 years combined.
“We as a society need to ask, ‘How much is enough?’” Fetterman said. “At what point does justice become vengeance?”
Another former Philadelphian, 46-year-old Sheena M. King, will be heard for her commutation request for first-degree murder, for which she has served 27 years. At 18 years old, King shot and killed a woman because her incarcerated, controlling boyfriend said he would kill King and her young children.
During her time at SCI-Muncy, King has authored a memoir, “Submerged,” that details her childhood physical abuse, sexual assault, and repeated rape starting when she was 8 years old. King’s mother’s boyfriend, who was allegedly raping and controlling King, warned that he would kill her family if she told her mother.
As a prisoner, King earned an associate degree in 2008 and has taken advantage of prison self-help programming to overcome abuse and become a mentor to other women prisoners. She was Inmate of the Year in 2005.
Charles Haas, a 70-year-old who has served 40 years on a 2nd-degree murder charge, highlights the sentencing disparity of 2nd-degree convictions. In 1978, he and his brother and a female accomplice conspired to rob someone. In the process, the woman shot the victim and Haas’s brother stabbed the victim. The female codefendant took a plea deal to testify against the brothers. Though she did the shooting, she was sentenced to 1-to-5 years in jail and served just one year. Haas’s brother, who stabbed the victim, was acquitted.
Haas, meanwhile, is working on his 41st year in prison. He has heart problems and underwent open heart surgery in 2014.
Fetterman is particularly interested in commutations for 2nd-degree murder cases in which the inmate didn’t take a life. Such convictions would include cases in which a person participated in a crime resulting in a homicide but didn’t “pull the trigger.” Those charged with 2nd-degree murder often serve more time than the person who physically killed someone.
Fetterman said his main concerns are giving people a chance to reestablish lives and contribute to their communities and righting the inequity of sentences that result in killers serving less time than accomplices who didn’t kill.
“If you didn’t take a life, the state shouldn’t take your life through unending incarceration,” Fetterman said. “Those who are unmoved by the morality of redemption should consider the fiscal reality of what this costs Pennsylvania taxpayers.”
Imprisoning elderly lifers costs $70,000 or more per year in Pennsylvania’s correctional facilities.
Other life-sentence commutation applications to be heard Friday are:
- Robert Atland, 60, York County, 1st Degree, 40 years served
- James E. Dorsey, 44, Allegheny County, 1st Degree, 23 years served
- Dennis Horton, 49, Philadelphia, 2nd Degree, 26 years served
- Lee A. Horton, 54, Philadelphia, 2nd Degree, 26 years served
- Robert L. Madison, 63, Philadelphia, 1st Degree, 41 years served
- Francisco M. Mojica, Jr., 57, Philadelphia, 2nd Degree, 27 years served
- Jose E. Nieves, 61, Lancaster, 2nd Degree, 42 years served
- Charles J. Schrott, Jr., 64, Allegheny County, 1st Degree, 36 years served
- Freddy Butler, 72, Montgomery County, 1st Degree, 49 years served
- Edward C. Printup, 59, Dauphin County, 1st Degree, 38 years served
The lieutenant governor chairs the five-person board, which must vote unanimously (5-0) to pass the recommendation to the governor, who is the only person with the power to commute sentences or issue pardons. The governor makes the final decision to grant or deny clemency, and he can choose whether to and when to act on the recommendations.
The board hears two types of requests for clemency: pardons and commutations. People who are not currently incarcerated are eligible for a pardon. Those who are in prison can request a reduction of sentence through commutation.
The hearings are open to the public. Members of the media who wish to record video or audio should call the media contact listed below.
Reforming the Process
At Fetterman’s direction, the pardons board is also 1) expediting review for sentence commutations for the more than 700 lifers who are age 65 or older, and 2) expediting review of pardons requests from people with nonviolent marijuana convictions.
Fetterman has taken numerous steps to improve the clemency process in Pennsylvania, including rewriting the pardons application to make it more user-friendly and reducing the required application fee to zero dollars.
He hired a pardon recipient as Secretary of the Board of Pardons and hired commuted former life-sentence inmates George Trudel and Naomi Blount to help inmates apply for commutation. Trudel and Blount will help to minimize the application backlog that had delayed their own cases.
Fetterman said his oversight of the Board of Pardons represents a shift in thinking decades after stunned officials clammed up and nearly shut off the clemency process for lifers.
Hundreds of commutations were approved between the 1970s and the 1990s, until commuted lifer Reginald McFadden went on a murder spree days after his release.
In the years after his release, between the early 90s and 2014, the pardons process was tightened, the unanimous-vote requirement was created, and only a handful of commutations had been granted.
“What McFadden did was an unthinkable tragedy for the victims and the victims’ families,” Fetterman said. “It was also an injustice to people who do deserve a second chance. We can’t stop believing in second chances for everyone.”
Fetterman supports SB-884 to change the state’s constitution to reduce the required unanimous vote to 4-1. Prior to McFadden’s spree, the required majority was 3-2.
In September, the Fetterman-led Board of Pardons sent Gov. Tom Wolf nine recommendations for sentence commutations. That’s the highest number of commutation recommendations since the early 1990s. The governor has since signed eight of those recommendations.
For more information, visit the Board of Pardons website, www.bop.pa.gov.
MEDIA CONTACT: Christina Kauffman - 717-712-3316
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