PA Life Sentence Commutations Sky-Rocketed Under John Fetterman-Led Board of Pardons

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for the state's U.S. Senate seat, is introduced by wife Gisele Barre Fetterman, left, during a rally in Erie, Pa., on Friday, Aug. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons has recommended a staggering number of commutations for prisoners serving life sentences under the direction of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the state’s Democrat nominee for U.S. Senate.

In his position as lieutenant governor, Fetterman heads the five-person Board of Pardons, and as the Philadelphia Inquirer has previously pointed out, recommendations for commutations of life sentences have skyrocketed since he assumed office in January 2019. From March 2019 through April 2022, the board sent at least 46 commutation recommendations to Gov. Tom Wolf (D). 

“That’s compared with just six in Wolf’s first term, none under former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s one term, and only five during former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell’s eight years in office,” as the Inquirer reported in May.

In other words, the Fetterman-led Board of Pardons has sent Wolf four times the number of recommendations in the past three years than it sent to Pennsylvania governors in the previous 16 years combined.

Not only has Fetterman headed the most radical board in the Quaker State’s recent history, but he has also been the most radical voting record of the five members, the Washington Free Beacon reported. He has voted to recommend clemency for more lifers than his peers, including Attorney General Josh Shapiro — the state’s Democratic gubernatorial nominee.

As the outlet noted Monday:

Wayne Covington was sentenced to life in prison after he shot and killed an 18-year-old for money to buy heroin. Pennsylvania Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman wants him to walk free.

In June 2021, Fetterman was the only member of the state’s Board of Pardons—which he chairs as lieutenant governor—to vote to commute Covington’s sentence, according to records reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon. In 1970, Covington admitted to shooting 18-year-old George Rudnycky to death while high, as Covington and an accomplice were robbing Rudnycky for drug money. Covington pleaded guilty to first-degree murder to avoid the death penalty and was sentenced to life imprisonment. Fetterman cast his vote over the pleas of Rudnycky’s family members, who opposed Covington’s release at the killer’s commutation hearing.

Of note, it takes a unanimous vote among board members to recommend commutations. However, they can be recommended without all members casting a vote. In other words, a vote of 4-0 rather than 5-0 is good enough for a recommendation to the governor.

 In February of 2021, Wolf announced he signed the commutations of thirteen individuals who were convicted on murder charges, all of which were recommended under the direction of Fetterman’s Board of Pardons:

  • George W. Burkhardt, 83, Lancaster, served 30 years for Murder 2, recommended in Dec. 2020
  • Daniel Cummings, 75, Philadelphia, served 38 years for Murder 1, recommended in Sept. 2020
  • Eric I. Eisen, 52, Allegheny, served 26 years for Murder 2, recommended in Dec. 2020
  • Reid Evans, 57, Philadelphia, served 39 years for Murder 2, recommended in Sept. 2020
  • Wyatt Evans, 58, Philadelphia, served 39 years for Murder 2, recommended in Sept. 2020
  • Charlie J. Goldblum, 71, Allegheny, served 42 years for Murder 1, recommended in Sept. 2019
  • Charles M. Haas, 72, Philadelphia, served 41 years for Murder 2, recommended in Dec. 2020
  • Dennis Horton, 51, Philadelphia, served 27 years for Murder 2, recommended in Dec. 2020
  • Lee A. Horton, 55, Philadelphia, served 27 years from Murder 2, recommended in Dec. 2020
  • Avis Lee, 59, Allegheny, served 40 years for Murder 2, recommended in Sept. 2020
  • Francisco Mojita, Sr.,58, Philadelphia, served 28 years for Murder 2, recommended in Sept. 2020
  • Mildred Strickland, 75, Philadelphia, served 31 years for Murder 1, recommended in Sept. 2020
  • Gregory Stover, 55, Philadelphia, served 32 years for Murder 1, recommended in Sept. 2020

“Each of these Pennsylvanians is fully deserving of the chance to return to their families and start a new life,” said Fetterman. It is unclear how many of the 13 commutations the Senate candidate voted in favor of, as some listed were sent to the governor without five votes. 

Of the 53 recommendations — including the 46 from the Fetterman-led board — that Wolf has received in his two terms, 45 have been granted


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