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Victims’ voices heard in clemency process

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Granting clemency to convicted criminals requires walking the fine line between punishment and redemption.  As the Pennsylvania Board of...

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Granting clemency to convicted criminals requires walking the fine line between punishment and redemption.  As the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons hears testimony this week on 131 pardons applications and 15 life-sentence commutation requests, they must balance justice for both the offenders and their victims.

"If you intentionally take another person`s life, it seems to me the penalty should be life imprisonment," said Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo.

For some, justice remains a lifetime in prison. According to Chardo, the form of justice chosen years ago shouldn`t change merely because time has passed.

"Promises were made," he said. "It`s not really right that it`s being changed retroactively."

In addition to the people seeking clemency, victims are another consideration in the process. If an offender comes up for a commutation hearing, victims may have to testify or send in a victim impact statement.

"It can re-victimize individuals years or decades later," Chardo said.

Victims often want to move on from the crime committed against them and move on in their lives.

"There is an aspect of certainty, when you`ve got a victim involved, when they expect that there`s going to be a sentence," Chardo said.

Granting clemency always poses the risk that a commuted lifer could commit more crimes, which happened in 1994, when convicted killer Reginald McFadden went on a murder spree days after his release. Officials counter that they only consider the strongest cases for clemency.

The hearing runs Dec. 17 to 19. After the hearings are done, the governor will grant all approved clemencies.