Amistad Law Project’s Statement on December 2020 Board of Pardons Hearings
Update: Since the original writing of this statement in December of 2020 Bruce Norris tragically passed away from COVID while awaiting Governor Wolf's signature. This needless death due to the Governor's inaction underscores the need for serious reform at the Board of Pardons and and with the entire system. We mourn Bruce Norris and are committed to stop needless death due to the carelessness and malice of the state.
Today, the Board of Pardons voted to recommend eight out of eleven commutation applications to Governor Wolf for his signature of approval. That is eight incarcerated people who will likely be reunited with their communities, and be more protected from the dangers of COVID-19. We are joyful for Lee and Dennis Horton, Bruce Burkhardt, David Slaughenhoupt, Michael Sacks, Eric Eisen, Charles Haas, and Bruce Norris.
We remain concerned about Cynthia Gonzalez, who was once again held under advisement, and is an excellent candidate for commutation. Cynthia’s daughter has been fighting for her freedom since she was 5 years old. Even greater than our concern about Cynthia Gonzalez is our concerns about the inherent limitations of commutation.
While we applaud great progress at the Board, there are thousands of people serving life without parole sentences in Pennsylvania prisons who the Board will never have the capacity to interview and determine if they have turned around their lives. These thousands of people sustain the fire in our fight for a Board of Pardons that makes clemency decisions based on who a person is today, as well as our fight for parole review for lifers. While we are unfamiliar with the cases of the people who were denied, the commutations process is a rigorous one where very few even make it to a public hearing. We believe that everyone has the right to demonstrate that they have turned their lives around, and if they have rehabilitated, to go home. That’s why we enthusiastically support parole review for lifers.
We need a system that truly believes in the human capacity for change and consistently offers mercy to people who have transformed themselves. Movements have spoken loudly about the need for second chances in the Pennsylvania prison system, including over 28 organizations that signed on to a letter calling for the Board to focus on applicants’ redemption, rehabilitation and personal transformation. Today the Board has responded. We celebrate this progress, and we hope you will join us on the journey ahead as we continue to organize and build power to win the healing and justice we all deserve.