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Dem Senate Candidate Voted To Free Convicted Murderer Who Killed 18-Year-Old for Heroin Money

John Fetterman is often the sole Pennsylvania Board of Pardons member to vote for freeing murderers

Pennsylvania lieutenant governor John Fetterman (D.) / Getty Images
and • August 15, 2022 5:00 am

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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. 

One year after the controversial vote, Fetterman is placing his Board of Pardons record at the center of his campaign against Republican Mehmet Oz. His campaign site boasts that he "transformed" the lieutenant governor position "into a bully pulpit for criminal justice reform" and "led the fight to free the wrongfully convicted and give second chances to deserving longtime inmates." Fetterman, who has said he ran for lieutenant governor solely to lead the Board of Pardons, has specifically called to end life sentences for second-degree murderers who participated in a killing but did not "pull the trigger."

But in Covington's case, Fetterman took no issue with voting to release a triggerman who admitted to shooting his young victim—a vote that Pennsylvania attorney general and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro did not reciprocate. A review of Fetterman's tenure on the board, meanwhile, shows that the Democrat has voted to release an array of violent criminals jailed for their roles in brutal murders, a far cry from the "innocent" people Fetterman often says he works to release. Those votes—as well as Fetterman's unabashed support for George Soros-funded Philadelphia district attorney Larry Krasner—prompted a letter from 13 Pennsylvania sheriffs who said Fetterman’s crime policy positions "would add to already rising crime rates in Pennsylvania." Their criticism of Fetterman could plague the Democrat's campaign as Pennsylvanians deal with a record murder spike.

Fetterman's campaign did not return a request for comment. The Board of Pardons denied the Free Beacon’s public records request for a video or transcript of the June 2021 hearing, saying that records of the public event are "confidential." Fetterman's office, which issued the denial, did not respond to a request for comment.

Beyond his support for Covington's commutation, Fetterman has supported the release of violent criminals Denise Crump and Anthony Eberhardt, pardon board votes reviewed by the Free Beacon show. Crump received life in prison in the late 1980s after she and an accomplice killed a 46-year-old man to "steal his television set, which was then sold for $60 to buy cocaine," according to the Philadelphia Daily News. Eberhardt also participated in a robbery-murder, which led to the shooting death of a beer distributor. 

Pennsylvania's Board of Pardons has faced high-profile recidivism issues in the past. In 1992, board members voted to commute the sentence of serial killer Reginald McFadden, who immediately went on a murdering spree, killing two and kidnapping and raping a third within three months of his release. After that ordeal, Pennsylvanians voted to raise the board's approval standard from a majority vote to a unanimous one, a move that caused life-sentence commutations to plummet.

Fetterman has called McFadden's actions "unthinkable." But the infamous murderer's post-release killing spree has not stopped the Democrat from backing an amendment to lower the board's vote threshold to 4-1. Since 2019, Fetterman has cast the sole vote to pardon or commute a sentence at least 27 times, pardon board records reviewed by the Free Beacon show.

In January, Fetterman appointed his campaign political director, Celeste Trusty, as secretary of the Board of Pardons. Trusty supports many of the same criminal justice reform policies as Fetterman, and has called to "disarm the police." She worked on Fetterman’s campaign through this January, according to Federal Election Commission records.