Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz’s campaign on Thursday excoriated his opponent, Democratic Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, for bringing on two convicted murderers as campaign staffers.
The celebrity surgeon and the National Republican Senate Committee cited Federal Election Commission filings indicating the lieutenant governor’s campaign employs Lee and Dennis Horton, who were both convicted of second-degree murder in 1993, having been found to have aided Robert Leaf in a theft-related killing of a man before fleeing the scene.
The Hortons, now respectively 56 and 51, have maintained they are innocent. While serving life sentences, they secured a commutation last February from Governor Tom Wolf (D). In a statement issued a the time, the governor did not concede their claims of guiltlessness, simply arguing that they “served time for their crimes and deserved a second chance.”
Fetterman, who heads the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons per state law, pushed for the Hortons’ release and said, “The trajectory of my career in public service will be determined by their freedom or lack thereof.”
Oz’s campaign called on his rival to fire the Hortons and said the Democrat’s tapping them bespeaks an overall laxity when it comes to criminal justice.
“John Fetterman consistently puts murderers and other criminals ahead of Pennsylvania communities,” Oz communications director Brittany Yanick said in a statement. “John Fetterman’s even trying to hide his record from voters by running TV ads saying he’s tough on crime. His positions — including releasing one-third of inmates onto our streets — says otherwise as does the fact that he hired two convicted murderers on his campaign.”
In a statement released in response to the Republican’s attacks, the former Braddock mayor, who has served as Wolf’s second-in-command since 2019, said he believes the brothers were “wrongfully convicted” and castigated Oz for urging Fetterman to dismiss them.
“This smear is a sad and desperate attack from Dr. Oz’s shambolic campaign,” Fetterman said. “Going after two campaign staffers is a new low for Dr. Oz. Dennis and Lee, who were wrongfully convicted, are two of the kindest, hardest working people I know — fighting for their release was one of the proudest moments of my career and I’m honored to have them on this team.”
Oz and Fetterman have sparred pointedly over issues of crime and violence. The Republican frequently observes the aggressive push his opponent has made during his time in as Board of Pardons chair to get many offenders released.
During his chairmanship so far, Fetterman recommended 46 commutations of life sentences. His predecessor Mike Stack (D), who served during Wolf’s first term, recommended only six and Jim Cawley, who served as lieutenant governor under the prior governor Tom Corbett (R), recommended none.
Fetterman has stated in the past that the Keystone State could release one-third of its prison population without seeing any heightened danger and that he is “trying to get as many folks out [of prison] as we can.” The candidate opposes mandatory sentences for felony murder and has received criticism for presiding as mayor of Braddock during a crime surge.
“John Fetterman has a long record of being soft on crime, which he constantly tries to hide from voters and the press,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokeswoman Lizzie Litzow said in a statement. “He wants to release one-third of inmates onto Pennsylvania’s streets and now has two convicted murderers working on his campaign. He needs to start putting Pennsylvania communities ahead of murderers and other criminals and can start by firing the two convicted murderers he’s employed.”
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