The death of Leonard Leichter in 1980, of a heart attack brought on by the terror of a gunpoint carjacking, was a painful loss that still haunts his daughter, Nancy Leichter.
But when she realized that two young Black men were still in prison 40 years later for his death — even after the ringleader in the crime was paroled — that was a new source of pain.
“They committed a terrible crime, but they don’t deserve to die in prison,” she said. “I think people are more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.”
Leichter became a forceful advocate for clemency for the two men, brothers Reid and Wyatt Evans, urging the Board of Pardons to recommend them for commutation. The board did so.
On Thursday, with the stroke of a pen, Gov. Tom Wolf commuted their life sentences to lifetime parole, allowing for them to be released from prison, according to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman. Wolf’s office did not immediately respond to a request for information Thursday afternoon.
The brothers were among 13 life-sentenced people granted clemency, Fetterman said. Others to be released include Philadelphia brothers Dennis and Lee Horton, who have long maintained their innocence in a robbery shooting, and Avis Lee, who was a teenager when she served as a lookout for a robbery that turned fatal. Lee Horton’s wife, Joanna, said the day had been a rollercoaster: Lee told her that they’d been granted clemency, and that they had also both tested positive for the coronavirus.
“I cried some. I’ve been screaming,” said Joanna, who works as a home health aide and was about to finish her shift. “When I leave here, I’m going to scream and I’m going to run down the block.”
Fetterman, who has pushed to expand access to clemency, called the releases a career highlight.
“That they’re going to go home, it’s amazing. Between just the Evans and the Horton brothers, it’s almost 140 years of incarceration, almost all of it unnecessary,” he said. “I’m so happy for their families. They get their husbands back. They get their brothers back. They get their fathers back.”
When Reid and Wyatt Evans’ sister, Rita Faye Aidara, heard the news, she let out a joyful scream.
“Oh lord, that is a beautiful thing,” she said. “God is good.”
Fetterman advocated the release of the Evans brothers, as well as Francisco Mojica and a fourth man, George Trudel. He learned of their cases in an Inquirer article about how felony murder rules in Pennsylvania can leave even peripheral accomplices to serve decades longer than the perpetrator in murder cases.
“I’m proud to say that every person featured in that article is going home,” said Fetterman. Trudel, who received clemency in 2019, now works for the Board of Pardons.
Mojica’s wife, Lydia, expressed gratitude for his release, after decades of visiting him in prison and raising his children without help. As a volunteer hospice worker in the prison, Mojica was known for his caring bedside manner. He hopes to do similar work once he’s released back to the community, and to care for his own family, including Lydia, who is on dialysis.
“It’s a very good moment,” his sister Mariluz Mojica said. “After all these years, we’re all happy that he’s coming home.”