Fetterman Voted to Put Murderers Back on Streets

Pennsylvania Dem was often sole pardon vote for violent cons

John Fetterman / YouTube screenshot
March 3, 2021

Senate hopeful John Fetterman often touts his role in advocating for the release of harmless and "innocent" prisoners. A review of the Democrat's record on commutation cases, however, shows the Democrat has voted to release violent criminals jailed for their roles in brutal murders.

As Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, Fetterman leads the five-person Board of Pardons, which evaluates clemency applications in the state. Since taking on the job in 2019, the Democrat has voted to release more criminals sentenced to life in prison than any other member of the panel, state records obtained by the Washington Free Beacon show. 

Fetterman's progressive stance often makes him the only board member to vote in favor of releasing a particularly heinous offender. Such was the case when he voted to commute the sentence of Michael Rinaldi, a man with Philadelphia mob ties who planned the killing of Edward Bianculli in 1980. An accomplice shot Bianculli as Rinaldi watched on, dumping the victim in a marsh near the Philadelphia airport, where the body remained for more than six months. Bianculli's family vehemently opposed Rinaldi's commutation during a September 2020 board hearing, arguing that he "possesses a serious danger to the community and must not be released into society."

Just one day before voting to release Rinaldi, Fetterman also voted to commute the life sentence of 44-year-old James Strapple. A Pennsylvania jury convicted Strapple of second-degree murder in 2000 after he admitted to procuring a gun and luring victim Glenn Ford to a secluded country road. An accomplice then shot Ford in what local law enforcement described as an "execution-style killing." Strapple went on to steal jewelry, a half-ounce of crack cocaine, and $360 from Ford. No other board member voted to commute Strapple's sentence.

Fetterman's Board of Pardons tenure could help him court progressives in a competitive Democratic Senate primary that has already lurched leftward. But it could also alienate general election voters in a state that elected former president Donald Trump in 2016 and came within one point of doing so again four years later. National Democrats are relying on Pennsylvania to expand their razor-thin majority in the upper chamber after two-term Republican senator Pat Toomey announced his impending retirement in October.

Clemency requests have exploded under Fetterman after he encouraged criminals sentenced to life in prison to apply for commutation in 2019. The Democrat continues to argue that anyone who did not "physically" take a life should not serve life in prison, expressing a particular interest in second-degree murderers who participated in a killing but did not "pull the trigger." Under Pennsylvania law, such criminals are sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment, a punishment that Fetterman says is too strict. 

To back his claim, the Democrat endorsed a recent Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity study, which contends that those who commit second-degree murder at age 25 or younger have "almost no likelihood of repeated crimes of violence" after serving two decades of prison time. But a U.S. Department of Justice study tracking more than 67,000 state prisoners from 2005 to 2014 found that more than 75 percent of inmates age 40 or older were rearrested at least once. 

"The risk does not zero out by the time a lot of these inmates would become eligible for release," Manhattan Institute legal policy expert Rafael Mangual told the Free Beacon. "There is still quite a high level of recidivism for inmates who are in their 40s and even in their 50s."

Fetterman's office did not return a request for comment.

Recidivism issues have plagued Pennsylvania's Board of Pardons in the past. After board members voted to commute Reginald McFadden's sentence in 1992, the serial killer murdered two people and kidnapped and raped a third within three months of his release. Pennsylvania voters went on to raise the board's approval standard from a majority vote to a unanimous vote, and life-sentence commutations plummeted. Fetterman has called McFadden's actions "unthinkable" but supports lowering the board's vote threshold to 4-1.

In addition to his concern over recidivism risks, Mangual said that the U.S. justice system should give serious consideration to "society's sense of justice" when sentencing criminals. He argued that there is a "risk of breakdown" when the American public finds the government's response to a crime to be "disparate of its own"—a dynamic that was at play during Rinaldi's Board of Pardons hearing.

"His crime was so depraved and violent [that] he was given a life sentence," a relative of Rinaldi's victim said. "Edward's family should never be made to relive this horrible crime every few years."