Correction: Author’s Brother-Life Sentence story
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — In a story May 31 about the brother of author John Edgar Wideman being recommended for a pardon for a 1975 killing, The Associated Press erroneously reported the agency that recommended the pardon. It was the Board of Pardons, not a Pennsylvania parole board.
A corrected version of the story is below:
Board recommends clemency for brother of acclaimed author
The brother of prize-winning author John Edgar Wideman has moved one step closer to freedom, after a Pennsylvania pardons board recommended pardoning him for a 1975 killing
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — The brother of prize-winning author John Edgar Wideman has moved one step closer to freedom, after the state Board of Pardons recommended pardoning him for a 1975 killing.
Robert Wideman was sentenced to life without parole and has been in a state prison since his conviction in a shooting case that was the subject of his older brother’s 1984 acclaimed memoir “Brothers and Keepers.” The book was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
The state Board of Pardons recommended clemency Wideman following a hearing Thursday that featured testimony from a current judge who prosecuted the case, and from the victim’s sister, who opposed the clemency request, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Wideman’s attorney Mark Schwartz said they will be “sweating bullets” awaiting a decision from Gov. Tom Wolf. The Democrat has promised to review every petition for clemency individually but also tends to give weight to the board’s recommendation.
“I think he’ll be elated,” Schwartz said of Wideman, who was not at the hearing.
Wideman was charged with murder after participating in a 1975 robbery that resulted in the shooting death of car salesman Nichola Morena. Even though Wideman did not fire any shots, the “felony-murder” doctrine treats accomplices to a felony that causes death as killers themselves.
Years after his trial, Wideman learned that Morena’s family had settled a malpractice lawsuit against the hospital that treated him. Wideman sought a new trial on the grounds that the jury never heard evidence that Morena could have survived had he received proper medical care.
“The gunshot put things in motion, but what was the death a result of?” Schwartz told the Post-Gazette. “The death was a result of the medical malpractice.”
Wideman never got a new trial, and he has sought clemency several times.
Christine Morena, the victim’s sister, opposed the request for leniency.
Morena was 12 when her brother was killed and never got the chance to form a full relationship with him, she told the court. “That opportunity was stolen from me,” she said.
“My family will forever be serving the life sentence of mourning my brother’s death,” she told the court. “We will never be paroled.”
John Edgar Wideman was Ivy League-educated, attending the University of Pennsylvania, and was only the second African-American ever to be named a Rhodes Scholar. His brother earned his college degree behind bars.
He was the first author to win the PEN-Faulkner Award for Fiction twice, in 1984 for “Sent for You Yesterday and again in 1991 for his novel “Philadelphia Fire.” He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2016.
A message to his publisher seeking comment on the pardons board decision wasn’t returned Friday.
In “Brothers and Keepers,” Wideman ponders how he and his brother took such different paths, one leading to literary celebrity, the other to a life sentence.
“However numerous and comforting the similarities, we were different,” the author wrote. “The world had seized on the difference, allowed me room to thrive, while he’d been forced into a cage. Why did it work that way? What was the nature of the difference? Why did it haunt me?”