Wrongfully Sentenced, The Horton Brothers are Ready with a Plan to Reduce Philly Violence

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Billy Penn: Lisa Bryant | February 21, 2022


Lee Horton sat in the waiting area at Jefferson Hospital last March, watching with fascination what he considered an unusual display: many of the people around him seemed to be having animated conversations with themselves.


“Some of them were pacing, laughing, using all kinds of hand gestures,” Horton said.


He commented to a nurse that Jefferson must have a large mental health unit. The nurse was amused, and politely informed him these people were not talking to themselves, but were on their phones.


The last time Lee, now 56, and his brother Dennis, 51, freely walked the streets of Philadelphia was 1993, when mobile phones were a rarity and there was no such thing as Bluetooth earbuds. After decades of advocacy, Gov. Tom Wolf commuted their prison sentences last February, and the brothers have spent the past year reacclimating to a society that evolved without them.


In addition to reengaging with their families and communities, the Hortons have been trying to get officials to listen to the anti-violence strategy they developed behind bars, which they believe can help calm the gun culture that’s become pervasive in their hometown.


It was Memorial Day when the young brothers went for a fateful beer run. They gave a ride to childhood friend Robert Leaf, not knowing Leaf had just murdered a man during a robbery. Police had been following Leaf — and when the car was pulled over, the Hortons were arrested, too.


Both were charged with second degree murder, which in Pennsylvania carries an automatic life sentence without possibility of parole.


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