Public Safety & Justice

Despite a Low Murder Rate, Pennsylvania Has a Lot of People Serving Life Sentences

July 21, 2014

Tyrone Werts waited in the car while his four buddies walked two blocks to a North Philadelphia speakeasy to commit a robbery on the night of May 6, 1975.

Werts, 23, didn't know that the robbery victim had been fatally shot until his accomplices jumped back inside the car.

The District Attorney's Office offered Werts a plea bargain of eight to 20 years in prison, but he opted for a jury trial and wound up getting convicted of second-degree murder.

That resulted in a mandatory life sentence without parole - the punishment in Pennsylvania state court for first- or second-degree murder. (Some first-degree-murder convictions also can draw death sentences.)

"I was young, ignorant of the law at that time, and I just could not reconcile in my mind how I could be guilty of murder, because I didn't kill anybody - right?" said Werts, now 62.

"So I turned that deal down because I was under the illusion that if I went to trial, I would tell the facts of the case and I would be found guilty of less or I would be found innocent. But I was wrong."

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