Showing posts with label Pennsylvania. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pennsylvania. Show all posts

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Pennsylvania Superhero: A Pardoned Attorney

Wow! HERE is a story:
In Sept. 21, 1994, Duquesne University junior Casey Mullen scaled the stairs to the school's law school library. The 19-year-old [man's] backpack held nine 1-ounce plastic bags filled with powdered cocaine — a delivery he was making to a woman he barely knew, part of his daily effort to sell enough narcotics to feed his own addiction. She was an undercover narcotics detective. It was his first and only arrest. [Less] than 18 months later, Allegheny County Judge Raymond Novak slammed Mullen with a mandatory minimum sentence: three to 10 years at the former State Correctional Institution Waynesburg. Mullen did his minimum three years and then embarked on a very different quest back up the 17 steps of the law school library.
But there's more! Mullen, now 41 years old, then went on to become a "stellar student and, later, an increasingly prominent criminal defense attorney." Now, he is making his past public because:
1) Criminals, especially those who are struggling with addiction, must see that it's possible to become a respected professional; 2) society must see the need to start taking more chances to reintegrate convicted felons; 3) policymakers should rethink what a prison can be — less punishment, more rehabilitation, job training and programs designed to ensure that every inmate leaves jail with “the belief that they can move beyond this” and contribute again to society. 
Mullen says the "two scariest days" of his life were when he went in jail, and when he left. He lived in a so-called half-way house for 10 months, worked at a confectioner and counselled high school students. While still under parole, he worked as a millwright and the university readmitted him to major in sociology. But applying to law schools was a different matter. Although his sentencing judge supported his application, law school admissions boards were more than a little hesitant. At Duquesne Law, Mullen "starred on the school's nationally renowned Trial Competition Team" and ws "named the top student by the faculty."

In 2008, Mullen appeared before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, on behalf of himself! There followed a unanimous vote to recommend to clemency. Gov. Ed Rendell granted the pardon in 2009, so Mullen could take the bar exam in 2011. Read more about this amazing story and Mullen's effort to help those where were formerly incarcerated here.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Pennsylvania: Shameful Backlog

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette is reporting on one Corry Sanders who was elected to McKeesport City Council "but cannot serve because of a 23-year-old drug conviction" Mr. Sanders is now learning that "it takes far too long for the state pardons board to consider applications." Indeed, it has a "three-year backlog."

Welcome to America, Mr. Sanders.

In 1993, when he was 22 years old, Sanders pleaded no contest, served his sentence and was paroled in 1998. Since 1999:
... he [put] his criminal past behind him, [operated] a barbershop and been a mentor to young people, an officer in a business association and a deacon in his church. 
Community Legal Services of Philadelphia says that "it can take applicants as long as six months to obtain a copy of their criminal records." Applicants can then "wait two years before a follow-up interview is conducted by the board’s staff." Says the Gazette"
No one is suggesting that the pardons board should simply rubber-stamp requests, but the process seems to ignore the long pause it puts on the future of individuals seeking to make meaningful changes. Could a process be devised that moves faster? Can the problem be solved with more staff? That may be difficult, given tight state revenue, but there is real savings to society when all its members can become self-sufficient and productive. There should be a better way, even if it won’t come in time for Corry Sanders to serve on council. 
See full editorial here.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Post-Gazette: Call for Pardon

In the 1960s, Sala Udin worked to register black voters in the South. The Post-Gazette notes that, after decades of public life in Pittsburgh, he "is known for fighting racial discrimination, serving in city council for 10 years, co-founding the New Horizons Theater and the House of the Crossroads drug treatment program, and championing the August Wilson Center.

But he is also known as a man convicted of carrying an unloaded, unlicensed handgun, robbery, receiving stolen goods, illegal transporting firearms and untaxed distilled spirits. Udin was eventually given a five-year sentence in federal prison, but was paroled after only seven months.

The state convictions were pardoned by the governor, in 2007 (after Udin submitted an application in 2004). In 2012, Udin submitted a pardon application to President Obama. The Gazette supports the federal application, but recognizes it is a "long shot" because of Obama's "reluctance to dispense clemency."


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Pennsylvania: A Contested Reprieve

Reuters reports that a prosecutor has gone to court "to try to block Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf's temporary reprieve of a convicted murderer who is set to be executed on March 4." Indeed, the prosecutor says, Governor Wolf's reprieve of Terrance Williams "is unconstitutional, illegal and should be declared null and void." Reuters reports:
In his petition filed on Wednesday, the prosecutor said Pennsylvania law restricts pardon-granting power to the Board of Pardons. "Unlike some states, Pennsylvania does not grant the governor at-will power to issue a moratorium or pardon or commute any sentence of death or punishment," the prosecutor said in a statement. By granting a reprieve, the governor effectively negated "a death sentence authorized by the General Assembly, imposed by a jury, and subject to exhaustive judicial review over a period of decades," the prosecutor said in his petition. "The constitutional role of the Governor is to execute the law, not sabotage it," he said in the petition.part of the governor's recent moratorium on the death penalty. 
Williams was sentenced to death for the 1984 murder. At the time of the offense, he was 18 years old. The Governor's office responds by noting: "Pursuant to Article 4, Section 9 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, Governor Wolf has the power to grant reprieves" - which sounds like a home run to us! See full story here.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Pennsylvania: The Unmerciful

William DiMascio, executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, has an interesting piece at Philly.com discussing the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons and its "nearly godlike acts of mercy." DiMascio notes that, until 1872, the governor "enjoyed unfettered discretion to dispense clemency." But a revised state constitution created a Board of Pardons which allowed a grant of clemency only after a majority recommendation. A second restriction came in 1997, requiring a unanimous recommendation from the board before the governor could consider commutations of life or death sentences. DiMascio says clemency has been reduced "to a trickle."

Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, "all first- and second-degree homicide convictions carry a mandatory sentence of life without the possibility of parole." And Pennsylvania ranks second only to Florida in the number prisoners serving life sentences without the possibility of parole (more than 4,300). DiMascio also reports Pennsylvania has "the world’s largest concentration of such sentences for crimes committed by juveniles."

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Pennsylvania: Meaningless Symbolic Pardon Request No. 932

In September of 1911, a concrete dam collapsed and 260 million gallons of water headed down the valley. But Cora Brooks made a phone call and many of those in the path of destruction, one mile away, were able to escape. 78 died. So, Brooks was not without sympathy, three months later, when she pleaded guilty to the charges of running a “house of ill repute” and selling liquor without a license. The result was a mere $200 fine. But, PennLine notes, "the conviction still stands, and Cora’s distant relatives are now asking Gov. Tom Corbett to pardon her of her public sins." She has been dead for 70 years now. Oh Lord!

One supporter says Brooks was a "proverbial hooker" with a "heart of gold.” Another says Brooks "raised hell until about five years from the day she died.” A Coudersport attorney, however, says pardoning dead people is a "stupid idea" - even as he agrees to assist with paperwork because "he thought it was fun." See full story here.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pennsylvania: A Commutation Revisited.

NewsWorks is featuring a great story on one 61-year old Tyrone Werts whose life sentence was commuted by former Governor Ed Rendell. Decades ago, Werts was riding in a car when 4 others decided to commit a robbery. Werts said he did not want to "participate" and stay in the car. When the others returned, he was informed that someone had been shot. It is reported that, while in prison, he "helped lead a Lifers group, mentored young people and pursued his education." But Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Mark Gilson Wertz "voluntarily agreed to participate" in the robbery and that he knew there were weapons involved. See complete story here.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pennsylvania: Three Commutations of Sentence

It is reported that Gov. Ed Rendell is about to commute the sentences of three convicted killers - Keith O. Smith, William Fultz and Tyrone Werts - who have spent decades behind bars. A spokesman says none were guilty of the actual killings and their accomplices all received lighter sentences. See story here.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Governors and Mercy

StateLine.org is featuring a piece on clemency in the states. Its general theme is that governors tend to show mercy as their terms come to an end. Governor Ed Rendell (PA) has granted 1,059 pardons during his eight years in office, "more than double the state's previous record."  Governor Jennifer Granholm (MI) has commuted 179 prisoners' sentences over the last eight years, "more than any governor in that state in decades." But the piece also asserts, "at the state level, governors commonly grant clemency at the end of their term in office."  See entire piece here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pennsylvania: Rendell Generous with Clemency

The CourierPostOnline reports Governor Rendell (a former district attorney) has granted 1,059 pardons "more than twice as many pardons as any other governor in modern times." He is also said to be "considering" dozens of others before he leaves office.

The reports provides the following pardon data for previous governors: Milton Shapp (475), Dick Thornburgh (61), Robert Casey (311), Tom Ridge (270) and Mark Schweiker (338). A spokesperson for the governor, however, says applications increased by a factor of 10 during Rendell's administration.

According to the report, the "most common charges" pardoned by Rendell have been "shoplifting, other forms of theft and drug offenses." He has also been fond of attaching conditions to pardons, which demand no further brushes with the law, or the pardon is cancelled. Most pardon seekers are said to be "motivated by employment-related issues." See full story here.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Pennsylvania: Critical Clemency Ruling

The Associated Press reports that a federal judge has "reaffirmed a ruling that could make it easier for inmates serving life sentences in Pennsylvania prisons to get commutation requests considered by the governor." The ruling focuses on an amendment that was part of an "anti-crime package" advocated by Gov. Tom Ridge. It required unanimous approval of the State's five-member Pardons Board in order for a commutation of sentence to be recommended to the governor. The result of the change as been 3 commutations of sentence in the last 12 years. Previous to the amendment, a mere majority vote was needed, and commutations of sentence were granted more frequently. But U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo now says the amendment should not be interpreted to apply to those convicted before 1997 - a ruling which could affect the fate of literally thousands of prisoners. See story here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Pennsylvania: Commutation of Sentence

Gov. Rendell has commuted the life sentence of George Gregory Orlowski who was convicted of a 1980 murder. The Philadelphia Inquirer notes such acts used to be "granted by the dozens," but "have all but ended" today. There are over 5,000 life-termers in Pennsylvania but only 3 commutations of sentence have been granted since 1994. On the other hand, an average of 12 life sentences per year were commuted from 1971 through 1994.

The Inquirer suggests "the clemency spigot all but closed in 1994" because of a pardoned killer named Reginald McFadden. Gov. Robert P. Casey paroled McFadden after the state pardons board had recommended the action. Later, McFadden murdered two others and kidnapped and raped a third. See more on clemency in Pennsylvania and the Orlowski case here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pennsylvania: Pardon Tale

Well, there are clemency stories and then there are clemency stories. As far as clemency stories go, this one is ... right up there!

Mitchell DiVentura strangled his former wife with the cord of a hair dryer in 1976. A first-degree murder conviction followed, but was overturned because of concerns over ineffective counsel. DiVentura was convicted a second time, however, and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. In 1987, he agreed to drop his appeal if his prosecutor and judge supported a bid for a commutation of sentence (to life with the possibility of parole). The prosecutor and judge agreed, sent letters to the state board of pardons and the board actually recommended clemency to then-Gov. Robert P. Casey. DiVentura must have felt like the Donald Trump of the criminal justice system. But Casey denied the application.

Where is this going?

Since the agreement between DiVentura and the prosecutor and judge, a new prosecutor has been elected. And the new prosecutor is not so keen on supporting the clemency application. In addition, the new prosecutor is seeking to block further appeals by DiVentura and recommending that DiVentura continue to use his old letters of support if he so desires!

Thanks to the great reporting of Sarah Cassi, we have more complete details on the case here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Pennsylvania: No Mercy Here

PennLive.Com features a powerful editorial by William M. DiMascio, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. The specific topic is Victor Hassine, who was found hanging in his cell at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset. Hassine had been in prison since 1980, serving a life sentence for murder. But DiMascio notes:
... What may be far more relevant today is the utterly dysfunctional nature of the Pardons Board. This constitutionally formed body is overwhelmed with trivialities -- meeting monthly to hear the relatively minor cases or youthful indiscretions that in today's super-security conscious environment become criminal records that are obstacles to employment.

More serious cases, like life-sentenced prisoners being considered for commutations, are almost never heard. The backlog is said to approach three years from the time an appeal is filed. Unlike most other states, Pennsylvania denies parole eligibility to all life- and death-sentenced prisoners. So commutation provides the sole glimmer of hope for more than 4,000 prisoners. Since 1995, the Pardons Board has only recommended three prisoners for commutation and governors have granted just two of them ...
He adds:
... This is a Pardons Board that was reinforcing its record of supporting perpetual punishment and negativity. It does not function in the arena of "corrections"; it does nothing to promote positive values and achievement ...
As it turns out, Hassine was "a good, if not model, prisoner." He wrote a supplement to standard criminal justice textbooks and donated royalties to various charities. He was a also a literacy tutor and teacher's aide. In 1991 he attended the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Prison Society and was presented the Prisoner of the Year Award. DiMascio concludes:
How do we as a society expect to curtail the violence in our communities if our governing bodies continue to promote vengeance, retribution and retaliation? We should be demanding that the agencies empowered to act on our behalf model values that we want the citizenry to replicate. Compassion is one of those values, and empathy and clemency are others.
See the full editorial here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Pennsylvania: Decision Making Rule Questioned

The Scranton Times Tribune notes a change to the state Constitution "makes it harder for defendants to get their sentence commuted." The 1997 amendment requires a unanimous vote from the state Board of Pardons in order for a commutation recommendation to be forwarded to the governor. Before the amendment, a majority vote was enough. The Pennsylvania Prison Society and other prisoner-rights groups contend (in a lawsuit) that the amendment should not be applied to inmates sentenced before 1997. In March 2006, a U.S. District Judge agreed that the amendment “can create a significant risk of increasing an inmate’s punishment” and that unanimous recommendations make successful application a “more difficult task” for inmates. The decision is now on appeal. See story here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pennsylvania: Judge Discourages Clemency

17-year old Alec Kreider was sentenced to life in prison yesterday after he admitted to killing Tom and Lisa Haines their 16-year-old son, Kevin, who was Kreider's best friend. The murders were committed in May of 2007, with the use of a hunting knife. Kreider was arrested after he confessed to his own father. An attorney says Kreger is "a child" who has not experienced full cognitive development. It is also alleged that Kreider told the inmate that killing his best friend, was "interesting," and that he would kill again if given the chance. At the closing of Tuesday's hearing, Judge David L. Ashworth told Kreider he would be filing a notation with the sentencing order in order to discourage any present or future governor from granting Kreider clemency. "Mr. Kreider, you will spend the rest of your life in prison," Ashworth said. "You will never be given the opportunity to threaten anyone else in the community."See article here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Pennsylvania: Prozac Murder?

Kurt Danysh is serving a 22.5-60-year sentence for shooting his 51-year old father in the head after his supply of Prozac ran out. Danysh says he does not remember even pulling the gun out. He also says that he has not yet "forgiven" himself, but that he has "come to terms with what happened." Now Danysh is seeking clemency as he tries to "raise awareness" about possible effects of Prozac and other antidepressant drugs. An attorney from the Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says seeking a clemency is a difficult and time-consuming process, requiring a unanimous vote by the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in order to get the governor to even consider the application. He also explains that, in 2007, "the governor granted 105 clemencies out of 138 clemency applications recommended by the board," but the board received over 650 applications. Pardon board Secretary John Heaton agrees that it is "quite a lengthy" process and notes that it has taken as long as two years for the board to review a request. See story here.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Pennsylvania: Background

According to the secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, the number of pardon, or clemency, requests in the State has skyrocketed since September 11 because of an increasing number of background checks uncovering crimes committed long ago, most of which were petty crimes. The secretary also notes, “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t see a new occupation where someone can’t get a job” because of their criminal record and some applications are processed over a period of three years. Pennsylvania's five-member pardon board, which meets monthly, is the only place to go to ask for mercy under state law and an expungement (or erasure) of a criminal record can only be obtained after pardon. District attorneys and those affected by the crime are asked to weigh in on pardon requests, but there are three pieces of legislation pending that would persons with minor criminal offenses to get their record expunged without a pardon. The above-mentioned secretary notes, “The board is just so far behind. It needs to be done.” See full story here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pennsylvania: A Pardon and Some Insights

This article discusses the case of one Robert Michael Milroy who was convicted of five counts of importation of heroin and five counts of using the U.S. mail to facilitate the importation of heroin and received a seven year prison sentence 1975. Milroy was pardoned by President Bush on Monday. But the more interesting part of the article is this section:
The Associated Press reported that a spokesperson for Bush said the president didn't personally know any of the people pardoned. “I don't believe he personally knows any of them,” White House Press Secretary Dana Perino said during a briefing yesterday. “The pardon attorney at the U.S. Department of Justice regularly provides the president with recommendations... The president considers these clemency recommendations as they come in to him.”
So, that explains what is going on up there! Compare with previous commentary here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pennsylvania: Denial

This report focuses on the story of an individual who cannot vote because of a felony conviction but has done a great deal to mobilize other voters nonetheless. David Sadler is 33 years old but cannot vote because of a conviction when he was 18. Sadler claims he was falsely accused and charged with drug possession, but he accepted a plea bargain because it was the only way to quickly return to school and football without serving jail time. In 2002, he walked from Orlando, Fla., to Harrisburg, Pa. to deliver his request for clemency to the governor and his effort attracted national media attention. But then Gov. Mark Schweiker (R) denied the request. Today, Sadler is the state director for the Alabama Restore the Vote Coalition. "They took my one vote but they added 5,000 more. I'll take those odds," Sadler said, referring to the estimated 5,000 people he's helped through his work with the coalition.

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