Monday, 20 January 2020

PA Dems Pushing To Release Violent Criminals, Putting Community at Risk

Thanks to the current wave of criminal justice reform, plenty of people who would normally be in jail aren’t.
The vast majority of these individuals are either drug offenders or accused criminals who no longer have to meet bail in states like New York. All of these have raised their attendant issues, but they generally tend to be popular with voters — which is why, of course, elected officials are more than willing to sign off on the initiatives.
For the life of me, then, I’m not sure what to make of Pennsylvania’s latest push to offer release to inmates who normally wouldn’t be eligible for release, period. Drug offenders? Sure, I can see it. Murderers, however, remain justly unpopular among the electorate at large. So are repeat violent offenders who earn life in prison without the possibility of parole. These are generally not your folk-hero types or offenders who would be considered “low-risk.”
That’s what makes Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s call to offer parole to criminals who didn’t directly take someone’s life genuinely head-scratching.
Fetterman’s already done quite a bit of the heavy lifting. Back in September, according to the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, Fetterman, who also chairs the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, made a big to-do about his panel hearing 23 clemency applications from prisoners serving life without the possibility of parole. Fetterman said it was the most applications in a single day in at least 40 years.
Of those, nine were passed on to Gov. Tom Wolf to sign off on their commutation. (Wolf and Fetterman, in case you even had ask, are both Democrats.) Four more appeals for clemency were held under advisement. Only 10 were denied, meaning the majority of the offenders still likely have a good chance of being let out.
“Pennsylvania believes in second chances,” Fetterman said after the hearings, according to the Capital-Star. “This was a big lift. But we want to continue to advance the frontier of granting those deserving inmates second chances.”
While Corey Maeweather wasn’t one of the people appealing for clemency back in September, he’s one of the people who could realistically end up getting one of those second chances. Maeweather’s case was unearthed when the Washington Free Beacon obtained the records of Pennsylvania inmates who could be released thanks to Fetterman’s push.
“In August 1996, 13-year-old Richezza Williams was found dead in a Pennsylvania cemetery, her burned and beaten body dumped in a cardboard box after she was tortured with household items, including a heated clothes hanger, cleaning chemicals, and a turkey baster,” Collin Anderson wrote in a piece published in the Free Beacon on Jan. 9.
“Corey Maeweather admitted to authorities that he participated in the brutal crime, appearing ‘void of emotion’ in a video as he described the victim’s screams and cries for help. Maeweather said he was not directly involved in the young girl’s death, instead confessing to retrieving the torture devices for two co-conspirators. He pleaded guilty to criminal homicide and kidnapping and was sentenced to life without parole.
“More than two decades later, top Democrats are seeking to ease the process for criminals like Maeweather to walk free.”
According to records obtained by the Free Beacon, there are more than 1,500 criminals convicted of serious crimes and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole who could see their sentences reduced under Fetterman’s push.
“If you didn’t take a life, the state shouldn’t take your life through unending incarceration,” Fetterman said in September, after that bonanza day with the Board of Pardons, according to a state news release issued at the time.
And it’s not as if he’s just looking for outlier cases — individuals who may have gotten railroaded and given a life without parole sentence even though the facts of the case didn’t warrant it.

“Fetterman is particularly interested in commutations for 2nd-degree murder cases in which the inmate didn’t take a life,” according to a Pennsylvania state news release from December.
Such convictions would include cases in which an inmate participated in a crime resulting in a homicide but didn’t “pull the trigger.” Those charged with second-degree murder often serve more time than a convict 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,” the December released stated.
The Free Beacon report included some other examples of inmates who could be released by Fetterman’s initiative.
“In addition to Maeweather, other criminals who meet Fetterman’s standard for commutation include Don Hogue, a repeat offender who stabbed a man in the neck with a kitchen knife in a dispute over a cigarette lighter, and Orin Turner, another repeat offender found not guilty of attempted murder in the first degree but guilty of nine other violent felonies, including assault in the first degree and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony,” Anderson wrote.
But forget about convincing voters. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Fetterman seems a bit more concerned with convincing prisoners they ought to apply to the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons.
“If you’re cynical about the commutation process,” Fetterman told an audience of 180 in a Luzerne County prison gym in October, “you have good reason to be, because nothing was really done about it in the last 40 years. A catastrophic bottleneck has doomed hundreds and hundreds of men and women to die in prison. But we have the best opportunity in 40 years to get people out.”
Well, at least the best opportunity in the last 25 years or so. That’s roughly when the spigot of early release was turned off thanks to Reginald McFadden.
McFadden had been in prison for a homicide related to a robbery but was let out thanks to a decision by the Board of Pardons in 1994. Within 90 days, he’d killed two people. A third victim, a 55-year-old woman, was kidnapped and “repeatedly raped, beaten and robbed,” according to The New York Times.
Fetterman thinks  McFadden case looms too large over the clemency process, it seems.
“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.”
It’s not just dangers like McFadden that should make Pennsylvanians wary about Fetterman’s push. Lindsay Vaughn, head of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, told the Free Beacon that the decision is a slap in the face to victims and their families.
“Blanket commutation for any category of crime or crimes would unavoidably circumnavigate current law,” Vaughan said.
“PDAA supports critical, individual review of each petition that is filed for someone convicted of murder. Depending upon the specific circumstance of each case, there may be individuals appropriate for commutation consideration.
“However the process plays out, the surviving victims of these murders must be given the opportunity to be heard at the hearing and their opinions must be given significant weight … Regardless of their opinions, the process of showing them the respect they deserve is paramount.”
At the very least, this is something that the legislature should be considering. My assumption is that this wouldn’t be the first place lawmakers would start — and there’s a reason for that. This is an ill-considered gambit that releases violent criminals who were put behind bars without parole for a reason, goes around established sentencing guidelines at the time of the crime and disrespects the families of victims.
This is not how prison reform should work. If we want to be more lenient — which I would argue isn’t quite as desirable as liberals might think — we need to start with non-violent offenders.
Release enough Corey Maeweathers and I can almost guarantee you that you’ll end up with at least one Reginald McFadden.

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