The first week of December, two members of Let’s Get Free visited the Board of Pardons and went to a hearing in the Supreme Courtroom at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg! We collected a lot of great information and got to experience what some of Avis’ hearing might be like.
There were 15 people on the roster for the board to rule on. They were all there for record clearing/ clemency, no commutations. Each person got 15 minutes to tell their story and then were cross examined by the board. Supporters could speak on their behalf as well, which seemed really effective when they were able to not only give a character reference but also specific anecdotes about the person. Then, any one present who opposed the pardon were given 15 minutes to speak. The psychologist spot on the board is vacant so there were only 4 members: Jim Cawley, Kathleen Kane, Louise Williams and Harris Gubernick. After all the cases the were heard, the court adjourned for 20 minutes (!) and then came back to vote on each case. If someone got 3 out of 4, the case was continued and 4 out of 4 votes the board recommended them to the governor to be pardoned. In one case it seemed like Jim Cawley changed his mind on the spot because everyone else had approved someone!
Most of the applicants had been young offenders with multiple convictions and attributed their bad decisions to the influence of peers. It seemed effective if people presented professionally, in dress and speech to illustrate that they had matured to become a different person than the young one that made bad decisions. The board asked a lot of questions about drugs and alcohol, and wanted to know specifics of programs people had completed. It didn’t seem like they could relate to individual motives of greed or carelessness. Some people were better at describing their personal accomplishments, without it being a long list that just becomes blubber. Our general conclusion was being as straightforward as possible, accountable to all details and not leaving anything out but not being too verbose is the preferred method.
After the hearing, we walked to the Board of Pardons to hand deliver 100 postcards in support of Avis! We tried to find out more information about the next time commutation hearings would come up, but only got something as general as, sometime in the spring. We spent some time walking around Harrisburg, putting postcards in coffee shops and engaging a little with the general public about the case. Overall, we left feeling like we had learned a lot about the proceedings and the personalities of the Board members.
Post written by Michelle Soto