Pennsylvania Governor Approves Two Commutations For Men Serving Life Sentences
The two men have been awaiting Tom Wolf’s signature for more than six months.
After collectively spending nearly 90 years in prison, Freddy Butler and Oliver Macklin will soon be heading home.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf officially commuted their sentences of life without the possibility of parole on Tuesday. The men were among the 17 people recommended last year by the Board of Pardons for a commutation but were two of three people still awaiting the governor’s official signoff, The Appeal reported in May.
Wolf took about two months on average to sign commutations for the 14 other people recommended. Butler and Macklin have waited more than six months.
The men will spend at least a year in a halfway house before being released on parole, according to Department of Corrections spokesperson Maria Finn.
Butler, 72, was convicted of first-degree murder in 1970. He has been incarcerated for more than 50 years. The Board of Pardons recommended his commutation to Wolf in December. Macklin, who is 63, was convicted of second-degree murder in 1986. He was recommended during the same session. The board must vote unanimously to recommend someone for a commutation.
Charles Goldblum, 71, is the only person whose recommendation for a commutation from a life sentence has not been approved. He was convicted of first-degree murder in 1977 and has been waiting since September—when the board recommended him for commutation—for Wolf to sign off on his eighth attempt to win release.
Wolf’s spokesperson Sara Goulet said that he is still considering Goldblum’s application. In May, she told The Appeal that the office had completed its review of his application, and that Butler’s and Macklin’s applications were still undergoing their internal review.
“I highly respect Governor Wolf taking time to perform a thorough review of the recommended commutation of Charles ‘Zeke’ Goldblum,” Marc Simon, a volunteer advocate for Charles Goldblum, told The Appeal. “If there are any outstanding concerns or questions, I am most willing to provide clarification.” He added that he and Goldblum’s family “eagerly await” Wolf’s signoff.
Since taking office in 2015, Wolf has approved 21 commutations from life sentences, including those of Butler and Macklin. Aside from Goldblum, he has approved every person recommended to him by the Board of Pardons since that year.
Wolf had only approved five commutations prior to John Fetterman taking over as lieutenant governor in January 2019. Fetterman made revitalizing the commutations process a major part of his platform when he ran for the office. Only 16 people were recommended for a commutation in more than 20 years prior to Fetterman taking office.
Since the “tough-on-crime” era, the number of people serving life without the possibility of parole has ballooned in the state. In 1976, only 650 people were serving life without the possibility of parole in Pennsylvania. And in 1980, fewer than 10 people serving that sentence were 65 years old or older. By the end of 2018, more than 5,400 were serving life without the possibility of parole sentences in the state. More than 700 of these people were over the age of 65, and more than 2,000 people had been in prison for more than 25 years.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the offense for which Charles Goldblum was convicted in 1977. He was convicted of first-degree murder, not second-degree murder.