Fetterman Claims He Wants First-Degree Murderers Behind Bars. He’s Voted To Free More Than a Dozen.

Pennsylvania lieutenant governor John Fetterman (D.) / Getty Images
October 13, 2022

Democratic Senate hopeful John Fetterman said Tuesday he has "always" supported life sentences for first-degree murderers. But as chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, Fetterman voted to release more than a dozen killers serving life sentences on first-degree murder charges, including one man who pleaded guilty in order to avoid the death penalty.

In an interview with the PennLive editorial board, Fetterman said Republicans are "lying" about his record on the Board of Pardons, which he oversees as lieutenant governor. Fetterman, who took issue with Republican claims that he wants to free murderers from prison, said he supports clemency for some convicted of second-degree murder—people who "did not take a life"—but that he "absolutely" supports life sentences for murder in the first degree.

"That’s clear. I’ve always said that," Fetterman told the editorial board.

It’s part of a pattern for Fetterman, who has repeatedly highlighted his support to end mandatory minimum life sentences in Pennsylvania for people convicted of second-degree murder. He has said clemency should be granted to those who "did not pull the trigger" but were instead accomplices to killings.

But a Washington Free Beacon analysis found the Democrat has voted to commute the prison sentences of at least 13 people convicted of first-degree murder, including some who admitted to their crimes. That was the case last year when Fetterman cast the only vote on the Board of Pardons to commute the sentence of Wayne Covington, who was convicted in 1970 for fatally shooting an 18-year-old for money to buy heroin. Covington was sentenced to life in prison for first-degree murder after he admitted to the killing in order to avoid the death penalty, the Free Beacon reported.

Fetterman’s latest defense comes as Republicans hammer him over his progressive positions and his leadership of the Board of Pardons. Fetterman has said he sought the role of lieutenant governor in order to use the Board of Pardons as a "bully pulpit" to enact progressive criminal justice reform. He has bragged that the board under his watch has voted to free more prisoners than all of his predecessors combined. He has also hired left-wing activists to serve on the board, including a former campaign official who has called to "disarm the police" and who says convicted cop killer Mumia Abu-Jamal is her "buddy."

The Republican onslaught appears to have cut into Fetterman’s lead over his challenger, Mehmet Oz. Fetterman led the celebrity doctor by 11 points in August, but the lead has shrunk to just 4 points amid a flurry of ads running in Pennsylvania highlighting Fetterman’s board votes and his other criminal justice positions.

In some cases, Fetterman voted unanimously with the five-member Board of Pardons to grant clemency to first-degree murderers. In Pennsylvania, all five board members must vote for clemency for a prisoner to be freed. According to Fox News, Fetterman voted to free 10 first-degree murderers who were granted clemency. That includes Charles Goldblum, who was convicted in 1977 of stabbing a man to death 26 times with garden shears in a Pittsburgh parking garage. Goldblum tried to hire a hitman to kill his accomplice in the slaying, the Free Beacon reported. Fetterman said when Goldblum was released from prison last year that he was "happy" that the convict would be going home to his family. Fetterman also inaccurately claimed that Goldblum was serving time for second-degree murder, instead of the more serious charge.

In at least three other instances, Fetterman has cast the only vote on the board to free first-degree murderers, often over the wishes of their victims’ families. In addition to the Covington case, Fetterman also voted to free Alexis Rodriguez and John David Brookins, who are serving life terms for first-degree murder. Rodriguez was convicted with four others in the 1989 murder of a police officer’s son. Brookins is serving time for stabbing his girlfriend’s mother to death with a pair of scissors in 1990, Fox News reported.

Fetterman’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.