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Brothers Who Expected To Die In Pennsylvania Prison Now Free After Clemency

People walk on a tour of the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix in Collegeville, Pa., in 2018. Two brothers who were at the facility have been freed by clemency after expecting to spend their lives incarcerated.
Jacqueline Larma
/
AP
People walk on a tour of the State Correctional Institution at Phoenix in Collegeville, Pa., in 2018. Two brothers who were at the facility have been freed by clemency after expecting to spend their lives incarcerated.

Two brothers who once expected to die in prison are now free — and home in Philadelphia.

Wyatt and Reid Evans spent 37 years behind bars for their part in a car-jacking gone bad. The brothers didn't intend to take a life in 1980. They stole a car and dropped off the driver at a pay phone booth. But the man later died of a heart attack.

The brothers refused a plea deal and were convicted of second-degree murder. Under Pennsylvania law, that meant life in prison.

Kris Henderson, executive director of the Amistad Law Project, worked on a legal case with the Evans brothers.

"There's a lot, there's a lot that they've missed in their lives being in prison," Henderson said. "The daughter of the man who died in their case, you know, she wanted them to be home."

Following an NPR story this month, now they are. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has been trying to revamp the pardon and commutations process.

"Just this past Friday, we got 13 individuals out that were condemned to die in prison," Fetterman said. "In most cases, a majority of them never directly took a life."

The pardon board had approved clemency for the Evans brothers and several other people months ago. But it took a while before Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf finally signed the papers that would lead to their release.

A lawsuit over the issue is moving through the courts.

Fetterman says the state legislature should take the wheel and tweak the law for the people who are still in prison.

"And this would be an elegant, quick solution to addressing something that has been a grave miscarriage of justice here in Pennsylvania," he said. "This is not justice. The penalty does not fit the crime."

Henderson, a lawyer for the Evans brothers, said they're getting used to life on the outside. They were arrested at age 18 and 19. Now, they're middle-aged men.

"You know there's a lot of shifts that have happened really quickly in their lives," Henderson said. "They're very much still getting settled."

For now, Henderson said they're keeping a low profile, spending time with their ailing father and thinking about starting their own families some day.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.

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