David Sheppard, a Philadelphia man whose life sentence was commuted by Gov. Tom Wolf, is being freed from a Pennsylvania prison for the first time in 27 years, reports NBC Philadephia. Sheppard, now 54, didn’t know if that would happen when he walked into a Delaware County courtroom earlier Monday to address a judge for a 1992 shoplifting case that the local district attorney resurrected. Defense attorney Max Orenstein said prosecutors agreed to drop a request to hold Sheppard in prison until the shoplifting case was finished. Delaware County DA Katayoun Copeland arrested Sheppard on Friday as he got set to walk free on the murder conviction.
Copeland, a Republican who lost a bid to another term in office in the November elections, argued that “the issue here is not about the shoplifting charge [but instead] the complete failure of the criminal justice system to give victims and their families a voice.” Sheppard’s case became the center of a battle over criminal justice reform. Copeland argued that the family of the victim in the fatal pharmacy robbery was not properly notified of Sheppard’s release after Wolf commuted his sentence. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who has advocated reforming the justice system through ending mass incarceration and overhauling the use of parole and bail, called the arrest “a cheap political stunt of a losing elected official.” Sheppard’s adult sons, who were young children when their dad went to prison, said he had served his time and deserves to be released. The next scheduled court hearing for the shoplifting charge is Jan. 21, where Orenstein said he would argue for a dismissal of the case.