Pennsylvania imprisons more than 5,000 people serving life without parole sentences, and so clemency grants for eight of them might not seem like much. But Gov. Tom Wolf’s decisions to commute those eight sentences, more than any of his predecessors had granted in the last 25 years, represents a crack in the wall that advocates have hoped for, Philly.com reports.
The politically precarious practice of commuting life sentences began to fall out of favor when Gov. Richard Thornburgh took office in 1979. It all but ceased in 1994 — the year a lifer named Reginald McFadden was released and went on a killing spree, flipping the governor’s race away from Mark Singel, who had approved the commutation, and shifting the odds of clemency from Harvard-acceptance rare to lottery-win rare for the next 2½ decades. Today, commutations must be unanimously recommended by the state Board of Pardons before the governor can even consider them. Many applicants are senior citizens who have spent decades in prison. One who made it through this process is George Trudel Jr., 52, one of more than a thousand lifers convicted for a role in a killing that they did not personally commit. Trudel was sentenced to life in prison as a juvenile for a fight in which he stood by as a friend killed a neighborhood man.