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After nearly a half-century in prison, Philly man is granted clemency at age 77

William "Smitty" Smith, who is serving a life sentence for a 1968 robbery and shooting, will get a chance at freedom. But his health is failing, and the adjustment could be difficult.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.
Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf delivers his budget address for the 2019-20 fiscal year to a joint session of the Pennsylvania House and Senate in Harrisburg, Pa., Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019.Read moreMatt Rourke / AP

At a frail 77, William Smith, known to friends over his half-century in prison as “Smitty,” appeared likely to die in prison after the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons denied his commutation petition in 2017 by a single vote.

But, with support from Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, the board reversed course — and on Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf granted Smith’s plea.

That makes five life sentences (plus one of 122 years) Wolf has commuted since taking office in 2015. And that’s as many as were commuted in the 20 years before he became governor. The practice fell out of favor in the 1990s, after a commuted lifer, Reginald McFadden, went on a killing spree.

Smith — who was involved in a 1968 robbery that left the owner of a Southwest Philadelphia check-cashing business, Charles Ticktin, dead, but who was not the shooter — must spend a year in a community correction center before being released into the community, a spokesperson for Wolf said.

William Harris, one of Smith’s 52-year-old twin sons, said he was grateful for the act of clemency, and for all the advocates who pushed for Smith’s release. But he is also frustrated: “He should have been out of there a long time ago. I’m assuming he may have some difficulty once he’s out, compared to how healthy he was a few years ago.”

Recently, Smith had been in and out of the hospital. “It seemed like he was losing hope, and getting tired. ... I was concerned, thinking the worst but trying to stay positive at the same time,” Harris said.

Now, though, Harris is hoping the former Southwest Philadelphia resident can reconnect with family, including five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“That’s what’s going to be his medicine to rejuvenate himself: having his family around. They haven’t been around in a long time,” Harris said.

Another lifer, George Trudel, who like Smith was rejected by the Board of Pardons — in Trudel’s case, by a 4-1 vote — will also get a second consideration next week, after the board voted unanimously to take up his case for review. As in Smith’s case, Trudel had the benefit of a letter from Krasner indicating the District Attorney’s Office no longer opposed commutation.

Trudel, 52, was convicted of participating in the fatal stabbing of Casimir “Kaz” Barowiec in 1986, though he was not the person wielding the knife and says he was not involved in the fight.

“His case is wild, given that the person who took someone’s life that day was out in less than a decade,” said Sean Damon of the Amistad Law Project, which has advocated for his case. “He’s got a Villanova degree, and I believe he has never had a misconduct.”

Trudel said last year he would take back his peripheral role in the crime if he could.

“I think about my actions that night, and what it’s done to my family and Kaz’s family. … I never thought that I would be hurting people that weren’t even born yet: my daughter, my grandkids, my nieces and nephews.”