Fetterman-vs.-Oz Campaign Turns to a Focus on Criminal Justice

Lee and Dennis Horton maintained their chastity during their 27 years behind bars. Two brothers were convicted of a 1993 robbery and fatal shooting in Philadelphia they say they did not commit.

“We are forgotten men,” said Lee Horton. “No one noticed us at all. John Fetterman reached out and pulled us up. He saved our lives because without a doubt we died in prison.”

Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for the Senate in Pennsylvania, ran for lieutenant general in 2018, largely to rejuvenate the Board of Amnesty as a final berth for justice. One of the lieutenant governor’s few duties is to be chairman of the board, which has gone awry.

Under his leadership, the number of prisoners serving life sentences who were offered clemency and release, including Hortons, greatly increased.

Now, that record has become a leading issue for Mr. Fetterman’s opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, with Republicans training fierce fire on Democrats on social media, in cases exploding emails and $4.6 million in TV commercials accusing him of “trying to get as many criminals out of prison as he can. “

After the Horton brothers were released in 2021, Mr. Fetterman gave them the job of being field organizers for his campaign.

“If John Fetterman cares about Pennsylvania’s crime problem, he’ll prove it by firing the convicted murderers he used in his campaign,” said Brittany Yanick, spokeswoman. of Dr. Oz, said this month.

Mr. Fetterman, in an interview, accused Dr. Oz of fearing and distorting the facts of the case of the Hortons and others he had championed. “Of course, these vampires will do that and distort and lie about the truth,” he said.

Across the country, Republicans have brought up the crime issue to rally midterm voters, facing an increase in violence in most major cities started during the coronavirus pandemic. Among them is Philadelphia, which is on track to match last year’s record of 562 homicides.

While attacking Democrats for being soft on crime may be the norm for Republicans most election years, Pennsylvania’s Senate race offers a distinctive contrast. distinct because Mr. Fetterman has made the pardon panel a célèbre cause for more than four years.

Instead of emphasizing his record, Mr. Fetterman expressed satisfaction in securing the release of inmates who have served decades in prison, generally with sample records.

“There are some wrongs that need to be fixed and there are a lot of people caught up in this system that are innocent or deserving of release,” he said.

If Republicans “weaponized” his record and “destroyed” his career for campaigning for a second chance, including the Hortons and other men, Fetterman added. which he said was wrongly convicted, “so be it.”

In one poll of The Morning Call/Muhlenberg College’s Pennsylvania voters last week, only 3% said crime was the most important midterm issue, behind the economy (22%) and abortion (20%). . But pollster Chris Borick suggested that 41 percent of Fetterman’s disapproval was due to Republican depictions of him as “too left-leaning,” including attacks on records. his amnesty. The governor lieutenant colonel led Dr. Oz, a former cardiac surgeon and popular TV presenter, by 49% to 44%, in the margin of error.

Barney Keller, a spokesman for Dr Oz, said his campaign would continue to attack Mr Fetterman over the crime. “Dr. Oz has surged in the polls because John Fetterman is the most pro-homicide candidate in America,” Keller said.

While individual pardon cases are complex, requiring voters to absorb the details and nuances, the GOP attacks on Mr. Fetterman aim to deliver the opposite: a straight punch in the face. viscera.

Oz’s campaign has created a website called In Prison for Fetterman, which highlights the crimes of convicted murderers Mr. Fetterman has sought to free and asks for donations to Dr. Oz.

Operation Oz singled out the Horton brothers, from whom Mr. Fetterman was released as one of the high points of his career in public office. Two brothers who share the same name but are unrelated to the most notorious prisoner released in a politically offensive commercial, Willie Horton, who committed the crime while participating in an amusing show that damaged Michael Dukakis’ presidential candidacy in 1988.

Referring to that episode explicitly, Mr. Fetterman said he foresaw that opponents would “Horton us” because of his championing of the release of his brothers.

Like more than 1,100 lives in Pennsylvania prisons, 70% of them Black, the Horton brothers were convicted of second-degree murder, a charge against suspects of participating in a felony – such as robbery property, arson or rape – resulting in death. It also includes accomplices not directly responsible for a death who drove a getaway car or acted as a stalker.

How Times reporters cover politics. We rely on our journalists to be independent observers. So while Times employees can vote, they are not allowed to endorse or campaign for candidates or political causes. This includes participating in marches or demonstrations to support a movement or raise money for, or raise money for, any political candidate or electoral cause.

Pennsylvania is an outlier in its non-parole life mandate for second-degree murder, and reformers argue it violates the constitutional protection against excessively cruel punishments. .

Unable to be released through the normal amnesty process, these prisoners were encouraged by Mr. Fetterman to seek a swap before the pardon board. The board may recommend pardon (for prisoners who have been released) or pardon (for prisoners still behind bars). The five-member panel, which includes Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor, must unanimously pass the transitions and the governor must sign it. Mr. Fetterman said that in every conversion case he advocates for, he asks the prisoner’s warden if he would like that person to be a neighbor. “And they were like, ‘Absolutely possible,'” he said.

Swappings – typically reducing life sentences to serving time – were once common, but in the era of extreme crime that began in the 1990s, all of that has come to an end. Mr Fetterman argued that “people who didn’t take their lives” and had a clean record of more than decades in prison should “live their lives at home.”

Under his leadership, the board of directors recommended Life sentences have been changed 50 times, compared with just 10 in the previous two decades.

In addition to the reduced sentence, Mr Fetterman has also been criticized by Republicans for opposing some life sentences for murder and for a statement he once made that he had “agreed” with an official. rectified that the number of prisons could be cut by a third without harming the public.

“John Fetterman wants to free a third of the prisoners and abolish life sentences for murderers,” said Dr. Oz’s first TV commercial of the general election. The Senate Leadership Foundation, a super PAC affiliated with Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, has run five ads leveling similar attacks, including the latest, calling Mr. Fetterman as “dangerous freedom of crime”.

For light crime attack purposes, it’s a small matter that homicides have increased during the pandemic in the blue states and in the red states same, and in the city, suburbs and countryside. Studies show that recidivism rates are low for those released after prison: about 1% for prisoners over 50, in a Pennsylvania study from 2005.

Mr. Fetterman said he does not support the release of a third of all prisoners – about 12,000 of Pennsylvania 36,000 prisoners. He said the official who commented that cutting the prison population by a third would not threaten public safety was a former corrections secretary appointed by a Republican governor. And the life sentence he seeks to end is for second-degree murder.

Last week, during a visit to Philadelphia to promote safe streets, Dr. Oz criticized Mr. Fetterman’s record on the amnesty panel and proposed his own anti-pollution measures, including his own. support the First Step Act. That law, passed in 2018 with bipartisan support, includes reduced sentences for federal prisoners for good conduct – a version of second chance that Mr. Fetterman espoused.

Malcolm Kenyatta, Democrat from Philadelphia, said that if Dr. Oz and Senate Republicans were concerned with high crime rates, they would support investments in poor communities such as wage increases. Minimum and gun safety measures go beyond the restrictive bipartisan bill. signed by President Biden in June. That law expanded background checks to gun buyers under the age of 21 and funded a red flag law that allows authorities to take firearms from people deemed dangerous.

“Dr. Republicans in the Senate and Oz don’t look down on the people of Philadelphia and the crimes that people are suffering,” said Mr.

Mr Keller, an Oz spokesman, did not respond directly when asked if Dr Oz would vote for bipartisan gun legislation. “Dr. Oz is interested in how enforcement of this law will unfold, and is particularly interested in new funding for mental health,” Keller said.

Mr Fetterman believes the Horton brothers were so wrongly convicted that after the pardon panel rejected their first clemency request in 2019 – Mr. Shapiro, the attorney general, voted against – he offered to run for governor if that was necessary. to get them out.

“The trajectory of my career in public service will be determined by their freedom or their lack,” he once told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Deputy Director General of State Administration authentication Hortons releases. The brother of the man killed in the 1993 shootings, for which the Hortons and the third man were convicted, was protested. “They took a life and they don’t deserve to be out in the public eye,” the victim’s brother, Reinaldo Alamo, told The Inquirer. The third man in the case, who police records show is the actual gunman, is release in 2008.

The brothers eventually won clemency on their second attempt, in 2020. Mr. Fetterman set his sights on the Senate, and Mr. Shapiro ran for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Since the brothers returned home to Philadelphia, the corrections department has invited them to speak monthly with trainees training to become wardens, Lee Horton said.

Their work for the Fetterman campaign included attending ward meetings, telling their stories at rallies and simply walking the streets.

Dennis Horton said: “On any given day we would be talking to people about John Fetterman’s policies on the minimum wage, how he made the lives of everyday workers average. , better.

His brother added: “We are not angry. We gave up on anger years ago but you know, we want to be able to live our lives and be able to feed our families. We want to be able to get jobs.”

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