Wolf commutes life sentences in record #s

  • Emily Previti

A recent column by The Morning Call’s Paul Muschick draws attention to one of the shortcomings of Pennsylvania’s Right-to-Know Law — and efforts to address it — at the heart of last week’s court ruling on a case brought by the Times-Tribune of Scranton. In brief, the city destroyed a public record after the newspaper requested it. The paper sued, and the judge ruled in its favor, awarding the paper legal fees of $3,500. The judge said he couldn’t award a harsher penalty because the state’s RTK law is weak when it comes to punishing governments that fail to preserve public documents. A pair of bills introduced this session would try to fix the law. Read more here. -Emily Previti, Newsletter Producer/Reporter

‘Do you believe in a second chance?’

Governor Tom Wolf commuted Robert Wideman's (right) life sentence for felony-murder—also known as second-degree murder—this spring. Wideman now spends most days with his girlfriend of seven years, Vivian Carter (left).

An-Li Herring / WESA

Governor Tom Wolf commuted Robert Wideman’s (right) life sentence for felony-murder—also known as second-degree murder—this spring. Wideman now spends most days with his girlfriend of seven years, Vivian Carter (left).

  • As the Pa. Supreme Court considers how many years constitute a “life” sentence in Philadelphia this week, officials in Harrisburg will consider commuting the terms of 21 prisoners currently serving life terms. That number of cases up for review is the highest at a single session of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in at least 25 years and follows the state’s recent uptick in shortening sentences for lifers, reports WESA’s An-Li Herring.

  • An-Li recently published two stories exploring the trend. The first lays out some basic history and information about the process while delving into three cases, one involving a man who spent half a century behind bars for driving a car involved in an armed robbery that turned fatal.

  • Gov. Tom Wolf, who acts on recommendations from the pardons board, has signed off on twice as many commutations during his time in office as his four predecessors added together, An-Li reports. Her second story puts the numbers in perspective by delving deeper into Pa.’s criminal justice policies and changes on the horizon.

Best of the rest

Lisa Wardle / WITF

From the visitor center, guests at the Flight 93 National Memorial can look out over the crash site. The point of impact, however, is still closed to the public. (Lisa Wardle/WITF)

  • The National Park Service will partner with Families of Flight 93 and other groups to host a Sept. 11 observance ceremony today at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Stonycreek Township, Somerset County. WITF has followed the story from the time of the crash to the completion of the memorial one year ago at the site (part of which was owned by WITF News Director Tim Lambert’s family). Past coverage is here.

  • We’re all just now getting a taste of what wine and liquor companies have long known: the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board wields enormous bargaining power, and it’s led to controversy over the agency’s negotiating tactics. Critics say the PLCB is imposing “random taxes,” while the chairman blames “sour grapes,” reports WITF Capitol Bureau Chief Katie Meyer in her latest story on the brouhaha.

  • No one bid on a mini-casino license that was up for grabs last week, as Ed Mahon reported for PA Post. Unless legislators change state law, Pennsylvania won’t have more than five of this type of gambling operation. On the latest episode of Smart Talk, Ed went into the factors driving the drought in interest and what’s up with the licenses that did get auctioned off. Listen here.

  • The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is offering buyouts to workers:  $1,000 per year of seniority capped at $25,000, according to this story from PennLive’s Jan Murphy. One highlight: Workers who opt in can take another gig elsewhere in state government immediately, if they want, and their payments don’t count against retirement benefits.

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