Gov. Shapiro, once Pa.’s top cop, backs inmate’s appeal of life sentence for felony murder

TribLIVE, 05/02/24: “Pennsylvania’s governor, once the state’s top lawman, is supporting an Allegheny County man’s appeal of his life sentence for second-degree murder without parole.

Gov. Josh Shapiro took the unusual step last week of filing a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of inmate Derek Lee because he believes that the mandatory sentence for the crime is unconstitutional.

Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s former attorney general and member of the state Parole Board, argued that there should not be the same mandatory penalty for those convicted of first-degree murder — an intentional killing — and second-degree murder, which could apply to someone like a getaway driver involved in a felony but who does not commit violence.

‘Both offenders should be punished severely, but they should not be punished the same,’ Shapiro’s attorney wrote in the 30-page document submitted to the justices who are hearing Lee’s appeal. ‘This sentencing scheme is not only unjust; it is unconstitutional.’

Bret Grote, the legal director of the Abolitionist Law Center, which represents Lee, said that 17 briefs were submitted on Lee’s behalf, including by former state and federal prosecutors and judges, families of victims, and former state corrections officials.

But the one from Shapiro was unexpected.

‘We welcome his willingness to share his perspective with the court,’ Grote said on Wednesday.

Read the full article here.