Dennis and Lee Horton, brothers from North Philadelphia, were convicted together for participating in a 1993 robbery and murder. They’ve fought the case together in court, maintaining their innocence. They were sentenced to life in prison together. And they’ve developed numerous programs together at the State Correctional Institution Chester, where they were known as role models so outstanding that even the prison superintendent pleaded for their freedom.
Now, they have a good shot at returning home together, too. On Friday, in a brief but emotional vote, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons recommended their commutation to Gov. Tom Wolf — which brings the number of cases on his desk for clemency to more than a dozen.
He’s already approved 21 releases, more than any governor in two decades, as a result of a commitment by the administration to revive the long-dormant board. Clemency remains the only avenue for release for about 5,400 Pennsylvanians serving life sentences with no opportunity for parole — the second-largest such population in the nation, after Florida.
The board met by Zoom, and also recommended clemency for several other people serving life terms.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who has advocated second chances in general, and the Hortons’ release in particular, wept as the other members of the board entered votes of support, first for Dennis Horton. When it came time to vote for Lee Horton, he appeared speechless. So Attorney General Josh Shapiro — with whom Fetterman has publicly clashed — spoke for him: “I’m a yes, and I think the lieutenant governor is a yes as well.”
Lee’s wife, Joanna Horton, who has been waiting for him to come home for 27 years, was at home weeping right along with him.
“I’m ecstatic right now. My husband is coming home!” she said. She’s begun making preparations, to get Lee a cell phone, and to adopt a kitten he’s raised in prison.
She’s hoping, though not expecting, to see her husband for Christmas. “I’ve been praying to God. God has been good to me. He has been with me all of these years. He always answers my prayers.”