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PA Campaign Has a Willie Horton Moment, With Complications

Updated: Sep 3, 2022

If Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz meant to give his opponent a Willie Horton moment, it seems to be complicated by certain facts. The campaign for Oz, the Republican nominee, issued a press release Thursday morning referring to two brothers working for the campaign of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman as "convicted murderers" and called for their firing, part of a months-long effort to paint the Democratic Fetterman as lenient on crime, Insider reported. Fetterman's campaign fired back, calling the smear of brothers Lee and Dennis Horton as "sad and desperate." "Going after two campaign staffers is a new low for Dr. Oz," Fetterman said. In a statement, he described the Hortons as "wrongfully convicted" and said that fighting for their release "was one of the proudest moments of my career and I'm honored to have them on this team."

The brothers were granted clemency after arguing they were wrongfully convicted of second-degree murder and should be set free, a stance supported at the time by a top official in the state prison system. They were ultimately released in 2021 after the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, which Fetterman chairs, unanimously recommended that their sentences be commuted. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2020 that the Hortons, who had served 27 years at that point, were caught by police with a friend in their car and accused of a robbery-murder. Decades after the trial, the district attorney's office disclosed police knew that one of the brothers was falsely accused of being the shooter and that both were identified by an eye witness in a dubious "show-up."


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