Brothers Lee and Dennis Horton were convicted in a 1993 robbery and fatal shooting in Philadelphia that they say they did not commit, even during the 27 years they spent in prison. “We were forgotten men,” Lee Horton said. “Nobody was paying us any mind. John Fetterman reached out and pulled us up. He saved our lives because there’s no doubt we would have died in prison.” Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, ran for lieutenant governor in 2018 to rejuvenate the Board of Pardons as a last stop for justice. One of the lieutenant governor’s few duties is to be the chair of the board. Under his leadership, more inmates serving life sentences were recommended for clemency and release, including the Hortons. Now that record has become a top issue for Fetterman’s opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, with Republicans criticizing Democrats on social media, in email blasts, and in $4.6 million in TV ads accusing Fetterman of “trying to get as many criminals out of prison as he can," the New York Times reports.
After the Horton brothers were released in 2021, Fetterman gave them jobs as field organizers for his campaign. “If John Fetterman cared about Pennsylvania’s crime problem, he’d prove it by firing the convicted murderers he employs on his campaign,” said Brittany Yanick, a spokeswoman for Oz. Fetterman accused Oz of fear-mongering and twisting the facts of the Hortons’ case and those of others he championed. Fetterman expressed satisfaction in winning the release of inmates who served decades in prison, generally with model records. “There were some wrongs that needed to be put right, and there were a lot of people caught up in this system that were innocent or deserving” of release, he said. If Republicans “weaponize” his record and “destroy” his career over his advocacy for second chances, Fetterman added, “then so be it.” The Oz campaign created a website called Inmates for Fetterman, highlighting the crimes of convicted murderers whose release Fetterman sought, and asking for donations to Oz. Barney Keller, a spokesman for Oz, said his campaign would continue to attack Fetterman on crime. “Dr. Oz has surged in the polls because John Fetterman is the most pro-murderer candidate in America."