Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. and Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman last year cast the lone vote in a failed bid to commute the sentence of a man convicted of murdering a woman with a pair of scissors.
The district attorney in the case alleged during an interview with Fox News Digital on Thursday that Fetterman "had a predetermined agenda" to get the man released, and that he tried to use his power as chair of the state's Board of Pardons to substitute the "power of the jury and the criminal justice system."
John David Brookins was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1992 for the 1990 killing of his girlfriend’s mother, Sharon Ginsberg, who was found with a pair of large scissors lodged in her chest.
An autopsy at the time revealed that Ginsberg was not only stabbed in the chest, but also had "eight significant internal injuries, including skull penetration consistent with an object such as scissors, protruding wounds, and bone fractures," and that she was also likely strangled, according to court documents.
Last year, Brookins requested a commutation to his sentence and claimed a DNA test on the murder weapon would exonerate him.
Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub opposed a DNA test, arguing that DNA testing of the scissors would not refute other strong evidence used to convict Brookins.
In February 2021, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, which is overseen by Fetterman, voted to grant Brookins a public hearing on March 4, 2021.
Fetterman later admitted to the Bucks County Courier Times that Brookins’ testimony during the hearing, which was confidential, "wasn’t particularly strong."
The lieutenant governor cast a vote for clemency anyway. He told the Courier Times that he could not imagine Brookins committed the crime, due to his 30 years of good behavior in prison, and the fact that he holds a bachelor’s degree in horticulture and teaches yoga.
"That doesn’t square with me," Fetterman told the outlet.
The board ended up voting 4-1 against Brookins’ clemency request, with Fetterman casting the lone vote in favor.
In an interview Thursday, Weintraub weighed in on the case and blasted Fetterman as "completely disrespectful and unprofessional" at the hearing, which occurred over Zoom due to COVID-19.
"It seemed to me that he had a predetermined agenda to try to get this guy released without listening to anything anybody had to say about it beforehand," Weintraub told Fox News Digital. "I started my remarks by saying that this is an important case for us, for the victims, for the survivors, for the citizens of Buncombe County to get some finality in this case, and I said I would hope that the members of this pardons board not have not prejudged this case."
"He took an insult to that," he continued. "And then I responded and said, ‘Well, I have a tweet from you, Mr. Fetterman, from a month before this hearing that presupposed that Brookins was innocent and should be released from jail, and that was my concern.’ And he really got upset about that. This was on a Zoom call, and he shut off his screen. It was the equivalent of a child in a child's game taking his ball and going home."
Fetterman had repeatedly tweeted about Brookins, calling for "justice" for him.
Weintraub said Fetterman reappeared on the call a few minutes later and repeatedly asked Weintraub to yield his time back to the board. Weintraub said the other members of the board spoke up for him, and he was able to finish remarks, which were followed by testimony from the victim's son. Weintraub said the victim's family was "completely opposed" to Brookins' clemency request.
"Mr. Fetterman was trying to substitute the [pardons] board’s power for the power of the jury and the criminal justice system unfairly," he said. "Because Mr. Brookins was claiming he was innocent, even though a jury found otherwise, and countless courts have determined otherwise."
Weintraub said he is "concerned" that Fetterman's past behavior will determine how he conducts himself if elected to the Senate.
"He does not like to be crossed or opposed," he said. "He was treating this as his own personal opportunity to right perceived wrongs, regardless of how the system had made these determinations in the past. And I would be concerned that he would behave that way in the future."
Fetterman campaign spokesman Joe Calvello defended the Democrat's approach to clemency cases.
"John is proud of his work on the Board of Pardons giving second chances to non-violent offenders and the wrongfully convicted. His work on the Board has been widely praised by Democrats and Republicans alike," Calvello said.
"John took a fair-minded approach to cases that came before the board, voting to grant clemency in many cases but also voting to deny clemency in hundreds of other cases."
Fetterman’s record on crime has come under scrutiny as his race heats up against Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz.
Fetterman successfully pushed for the early release of Raymond Johnson, who was sentenced to life in prison after he was convicted of first-degree and second-degree murder in a 1973 York County slaying. On Sept. 13, 2019, Fetterman's Board of Pardons voted unanimously to commute Johnson’s sentence, and Gov. Tom Wolf granted the request that December, releasing Johnson from prison.
Fetterman also says he wants to eliminate mandatory life sentences for those convicted of second-degree murder, but he has not said that applies to first-degree murder.
The lieutenant governor has also expressed support for reducing Pennsylvania’s prison population by one-third.