Tom Wolf

Gov. Tom Wolf

With the stroke of a pen on Thursday, Gov. Tom Wolf cut short sentences for eight people serving life in Pennsylvania prisons.

Wolf signed off on eight commutations on Thursday, according to a statement by his office — an action that will allow the recipients to walk free after spending decades incarcerated.

All of the individuals who received commutations had the unanimous endorsement of Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons, a five-member board that hears clemency applications.

“The [pardoned] individuals have used their time in prison to rehabilitate themselves, remained largely free of any incident, and show remorse for their actions and victims,” Wolf’s spokesman, J.J. Abbott, said in a written statement.

All eight commutation recipients must spend one year in Community Corrections Centers before they can return to their families and communities, Abbott said. They will then remain under parole supervision for the rest of their lives.

The state Board of Pardons logged its busiest day in decades this September when it voted to send nine commutation applications to Wolf’s desk.

Wolf deferred signing off on one of those applications — that of Charles Goldblum, who has served nearly four decades in state prison for his role in the 1976 murder of George Wilhelm in downtown Pittsburgh.

Wolf did not say in his release why he decided to hold Goldblum’s application under further consideration.

Goldblum, who has maintained his innocence for five decades, has already applied seven times to have his life sentence commuted. Each time, Wilhelm’s family has asked the Pardons Board to deny his bid for mercy.

Since taking office in 2015, Wolf has sought to reverse a decades-long trend that saw commutations grind to a near-halt in Pennsylvania.

He’s had assistance from Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who took the helm of the Pardons Board when he was sworn in as Wolf’s deputy in January 2019.

Wolf’s predecessors started granting fewer commutations in the 1990s, after a convicted murderer who was released early from prison went on to commit a rape and homicide.

Prior to Thursday, Wolf had already signed more commutation orders than his last four predecessors combined.

The eight most recent pardons bring his total number of commutations to 19 — the third-highest total of any Pennsylvania governor besides Milton Shapp, who commuted 250 life sentences between 1971 and 1979, and Bob Casey, who granted 27 between 1987-1994.

Elizabeth Hardison is a reporter for the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this story first appeared.

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