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December 30, 2010

Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell not a wuss when it comes to clemency for lifers

Though Pennsylvania's outgoing Governor Ed Rendell has been in the news of late primarily because of this notable commentary concerning the NFL's decision to postpone the Eagles game due to Sunday's snowfall: 

"My biggest beef is that this is part of what's happened in this country," Rendell said in an interview on 97.5 radio in Philly.  "I think we've become wussies. ... We've become a nation of wusses.  The Chinese are kicking our butt in everything.  If this was in China do you think the Chinese would have called off the game?  People would have been marching down to the stadium, they would have walked and they would have been doing calculus on the way down."

Though I do not want to get too deep into a wussies debate, I do think the term wuss also serves as a fitting pejorative for chief executives who have been afraid to exercise their clemency powers. Consequently, I was pleased to see this new local story concerning the Governor, which is headlined "Rendell to commute life sentences for three." Here are the details:

Gov. Rendell is scheduled Thursday to commute the life sentences of three men convicted of slayings during the 1970s in Philadelphia, his spokesman said Wednesday night.

Tyrone A. Werts, William Fultz, and Kevin O. Smith will be released from prison into halfway houses after Rendell signs the orders, said spokesman Gary Tuma. Rendell, who is leaving office next month, previously commuted the life sentences of two men, Michael Anderson and George Orlowski.

The three new cases received 4-0 votes for recommendation by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons on Dec. 14. Attorney General Tom Corbett, a board member who is now governor-elect, was absent.

Tuma said Rendell decided in favor of clemency because none of the candidates did the actual killing, they already had served many years in prison, and they were hailed by advocates as changed men and ideal cases for clemency. Once released, the men must maintain clean records or their commutations will be revoked, Tuma said.

Only six lifers have been recommended for commutation since a 1997 constitutional amendment went into effect that required a unanimous vote from the Pardons Board. Gov. Mark S. Schweiker approved one in 2002 as he was leaving office.

Werts, now 60, was convicted in 1975 for a murder of a man at a speakeasy. He was 24 when he served as the getaway driver in a robbery of a speakeasy that left William Bridgeman, 26, dead. As an inmate at Graterford Prison, he has earned a bachelor's degree and served as president of Lifers Inc., said William M. DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society....

DiMascio said that the power to grant clemency was put in the state constitution so that it would be used. "To show mercy is not a sign of weakness, it's a sign that the system works," he said.

Kudos to Governor Rendell for being willing to approve these lifers' grants of clemency. As for what the Chinese would have done in this situation, ... well ... perhaps it is better not to go there.

December 30, 2010 at 01:35 PM | Permalink

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