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September 3, 2009

"Pa. lifers seeking clemency in wake of US ruling"

The title of this post is the headline of this new AP article discussing litigation and other developments surrounding possible clemency grants for those serving life sentences in Pennsylvania.  Here are excerpts:

Tyrone Werts earned a college degree, counseled at-risk teenagers, organized an anti-crime summit, sold Girl Scout cookies, and once prevented the rape of a teacher — all while serving a life sentence for second-degree murder and robbery.

Regarded as a model prisoner for nearly 35 years, Werts, 57, will appear before the state Board of Pardons on Thursday to ask for a commutation of his sentence. He and another inmate, William Fultz, also 57, are the first lifers to go before the board since a federal judge ruled in June that thousands of Pennsylvania inmates sentenced to life should have an easier path toward clemency....

Werts' backers are pinning their hopes on a June 11 ruling by U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo, who said the pardons board may not apply the tougher 1997 standard to inmates who committed their crimes before 1997 because the U.S. Constitution forbids ex post facto punishment.  The decision — the latest ruling in a 12-year-old lawsuit filed by the Pennsylvania Prison Society — could affect more than 3,000 of the 4,868 lifers in the state's prisons.  The pardons board has appealed.

The 1997 amendment requires that inmates sentenced to life must receive a unanimous vote of the five-member pardons board before the governor may consider their commutation request — giving a single board member the power to block any inmate's bid.  Before then, lifers needed only a majority vote to get their case before the governor.

Opponents of the referendum argue it deprives lifers of any meaningful chance to win clemency. Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of inmates serving life sentences who were juveniles when they committed their crimes.  It's also one of only six states in which a life sentence automatically means life without parole — so commutation is the only way lifers who have already spent decades behind bars can get out of prison.

September 3, 2009 at 09:52 PM | Permalink


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Whatever the merits of the new system I believe the federal court made the correct ruling here. Whatever level of parole eligibility a prisoner has is a protected liberty interest. I am in fact surprised that it has taken so long and that the state thinks such a tightening of standards would survive review.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Sep 3, 2009 10:14:43 PM

Mr. Wertz has done so well in the structured setting of prison. If he has antisocial personality disorder, release would ruin his life. He will return to all the environmental factors that led him astray. This is so foreseeable, that he screws up, he should be allowed a cause of action against the parole board and against the governor. It will be their fault.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Sep 4, 2009 12:59:46 AM

Board of Parole members are appointed by the governor and contradicts by that trias politica, seen a model for the governance of democratic states. Looking at Justice System’s organization everyone will find more or less deficits. Further following Wickipedia:
Parliamentary democracies do not have distinct separation of powers.
The executive, which often consists of a prime minister and cabinet
("government"), is drawn from the legislature (parliament). This is
the principle of responsible government. However, although the
legislative and executive branches are connected, in parliamentary
systems there is usually an independent judiciary and the government's
role in the parliament does not give them unlimited legislative
Board of Parole members tend to be boss-eyed and easy to be influenced by Prison Industrial Complex marketing.

Posted by: Francis | Oct 11, 2009 4:47:53 AM

Member of registered society for the support of offenders within Association for Probation and Offender's Assistance.

Posted by: Francis | Oct 11, 2009 4:49:53 AM

I think everyone deserves a second chance ,according to statistics lifers are the most well behaved in jail .where violence is all around them i applaued Mr. wertz in his efforts an would like to be informed of his outcome may the lord show him mercy an allow the govenor to grant his request.

Posted by: john | Dec 15, 2009 11:40:39 AM

I am a housewife, cub scout den leader, former public school art teacher. I would like to see Sharon Wiggins' sentence commuted to parole; assuming you are not familiar with her case, she killed a man, shot him 2x in a bank robbery at the age of 17 in 1968 and has been in SCI Muncy since. Originally sentenced to Death, sentenced to LWOP in 1971. While she walked away from Muncy 2x in '73 and '78 she turned herself in the second time. An award winning inmate, she has never been given a public hearing.
I don't know how to advocate for her.

Posted by: ellen melchiondo | May 18, 2011 4:52:25 PM

i was in prison with Sharon Wiggins who is mentioned above, and she was a kind lady very kind and its sad her story and how she wasnt givin the things she needed to be released from prison , after so long. and its very sad that she had passed away when she shoulda been comin home very soon!

Posted by: cassandra wallace | Mar 24, 2013 10:10:32 PM

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