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Board of Pardons Debating 9 Sentence Commutations

Should Gov. Wolf Release These 9 Prison Lifers? The Board of Pardons Thinks So

Samantha Melamed - September 13, 2019

Since Gov. Tom Wolf took office in 2015, he has commuted the life sentences of 11 men and women. That amounts to just 0.2% of Pennsylvania’s 5,450 prison lifers, who are otherwise ineligible for parole, but it’s still the highest number since Gov. Robert Casey left office nearly 25 years ago.

Now, Wolf has nine more individuals to consider for release.

The five-member Board of Pardons on Friday recommended those lifers for commutation during a historic marathon hearing for 20 lifers — more cases considered than on any occasion in recent memory, following a push by Lt. Gov. John Fetterman to make commutations more attainable for deserving prisoners.

The day of emotional sessions at the state Capitol offered a catalog of transformation over years in prison — but also of the devastation caused by 20 slayings on both the families of those killed violently decades ago and the loved ones of those lost to life terms in prison.

Eight applications were denied, including that of Philadelphian Richard Pacell. Decades after a fatal 1982 stabbing in the city’s Port Richmond section, the families of the killer, then-19-year-old Pacell, and the victim, James Mulvenna, 22, both described grief that’s still sharp-edged and raw. Mulvenna’s mother, Agnes Lawler, told of the deep trauma the killing brought on her family, while Pacell’s sister, Debra Thompson, who was just 14 then, said her own mother has not been the same since Pacell was locked away.

“We’re all different people because of this,” Thompson said.

“It’s gut-wrenching for their family. It’s gut-wrenching for our family,” said Robert Thompson, Debra’s husband. “At the end of the day, you’re left with two families, one of which wants their loved one to come home, the other of which will still have to live with a terrible loss.”

Among those recommended for release were four Philadelphia men — Gervin Deaton, David Sheppard, Oscar Pinto, and Antonio Mazzccua — and one woman, Mageline Stewart.

Mazzccua, who is 67, has served 42 years in prison for fatally shooting 19-year-old Bernard Redding in 1977. In the decades since, the inmate has become deeply religious, part of a group of incarcerated singers called the Gospel Messengers. He’s among the men considered role models within the prison system, according to Jorge Cintron Jr., who has been incarcerated with Mazzccua at State Correctional Institution Phoenix.

“They are leaders in this place who encourage the young men and others to better themselves, to always have hope, and never give up,” he said.

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