Gov. Wolf clemency: Ex-lifer back on track for release amid old shoplifting case

Maryclaire Dale
Associated Press

A Pennsylvania man who earned a reprieve from a life sentence only to be held on a long-ago shoplifting charge is back on track to be released.

David Sheppard’s case has become something of a political football in the debate over criminal justice reform and victims’ rights.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf approved his clemency bid after a unanimous vote of the five-member state pardons board. But outgoing Delaware County District Attorney Katayoun Copeland, a Republican, detained him hours before his release Friday on the decades-old shoplifting charge.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman speaks during his statewide listening tour Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Fetterman is holding a series of town hall meetings to hear residents' opinions on legalized recreational marijuana. Over 200 attended the event at DeMeester Recital Hall at York College. Bill Kalina photo

Sheppard spent another weekend in state prison before Copeland’s office declined to seek bail at a hearing Monday on the shoplifting charge, which involved several pairs of jeans taken from a now-defunct store, defense lawyer Max Orenstein said. The case will now be handled in January by a new prosecutor skeptical of pursuing the case.

Orenstein expects the 54-year-old Sheppard to be released to a half-way house by Tuesday.

Sheppard has served 27 years in prison for his role in a fatal 1992 robbery in Philadelphia that killed a beloved neighborhood pharmacist.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman considers Copeland’s intervention an attack on the state pardons board, which he leads.

“I would have a conversation with anyone about the merits of commutation,” Fetterman said Monday. “But to invoke a 30-year-old shoplifting charge, it just diminishes the whole process.”

Copeland, in a statement Friday, aimed her criticism at the fact the victim’s family was not notified of the pardons board hearing this fall. A spokeswoman for Philadelphia’s district attorney said they reached out to the family after the hearing, when they realized they were not registered as victim contacts.

“Victims have a right to be heard, when they were there and they sat through the trial,” Copeland said Monday. “We weren’t seeking for him to spend any more jail time. We wanted the governor to hear from them before he chose to sign off.”

Fetterman said he apologized to the family in person Monday in Delaware County, for both their loss and any breakdown in the system.