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Fetterman touts “Shawshank Redemption” pardon policy

Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman has said he thinks of the 1994 classic “The Shawshank Redemption” when he’s deciding whether to vote to free criminals as head of the commonwealth’s Board of Pardons.

Fetterman, who has been hammered by his Republican opponent, Dr. Mehmet Oz, over his soft-on-crime approach, was asked during an interview how he determines whether a person who has committed first-degree murder deserves clemency.

Fetterman answered that it was a “very simple choice.”​

“I believe the perfect metaphor is ​’​The Shawshank Redemption,’” Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor said in an interview with online news outlet Semafor that was published Tuesday.​​ That’s a touchstone that virtually everybody has seen, everybody understands​,”

“​I’ve asked people, ‘Would you want Morgan Freeman to die in prison or not?’ And I’ve never met anybody that says, ​​’Yeah, he should die in prison. I would have voted to have him die in prison​,’” added Fetterman.

Morgan Freeman as Ellis “Red” Redding in “The Shawshank Redemption.”
Columbia Pictures

“You’re talking less than one percent of individuals that are condemned to die in prison,” he went on. “And they come in front of five people, the same as in ​’​Shawshank.​’​ They’re usually elderly. They’re most likely to be ​black. And they are deeply remorseful for what they were involved in, or what they did directly; and they’ve done 40 years or more, maybe sometimes more than 50 years​.”

In the movie, Freeman’s character, Ellis “Red” Redding, is released from the fictional Shawshank Prison after serving 40 years for murder. In the source novel, by Stephen King, narrator Red explains that he killed his wife and two other people by cutting the brakes on his car in order to collect on his wife’s life insurance policy.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, Republican Senate candidate, campaigns.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, Republican Senate candidate, campaigns Oct. 18 in West Homestead, Pa.

Oz, the celebrity heart surgeon, reacted with astonishment. 

“Does Fetterman know that Shawshank Redemption is … a movie … with actors? And that this is real life — and these are brutal murders?,” Oz said on Twitter, linking to articles reacting to Fetterman’s analogy.

David Harsanyi, writing in The Federalist, said Fetterman’s “Shawshank” comparison was “terrible … because the central purpose of the movie is manipulating viewers into feeling sympathy for fictional inmates — some of whom have committed premeditated murder. It’s a great movie.”

John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for Senate, holds a rally.
John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for Senate, holds a rally Oct. 18 in Harmony, Pa.

H​arsanyi pointed out that Fetterman was the sole vote on the board in August 2021 to free Alexis Rodriguez, who is serving a life sentence for fatally shooting Sean Daily, the 17-year-old son of a Philadelphia police officer, in 1989.

Rodriguez, then 19, was one of five sentenced to life in prison for beating Daily, a high school junior, with a baseball bat and then shooting him in a racially motivated attack. 

Rodriguez was denied clemency by a 3-1 vote. 

An analysis of Fetterman’s time on the board by the Washington Free Beacon found that he voted to free at least 13 people convicted of first-degree murder. 

It takes a unanimous vote by all five members of the board to release a convict. 

Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Calvello defended the candidate’s record on the board. 

“John saved taxpayer money and took a fair-minded approach to every case he considered, voting to deny hundreds of pardon and commutation cases while also siding with law enforcement experts nearly 90% of the tim​e,” Calvello told Fox News Digital in a statement last week.

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