Why Does John Fetterman Have Convicted Murderers on His Payroll?

The media usually find a way to twist facts to fit their political narrative, but their powers of distortion are being tested by Democratic Senate candidate John Fetterman. Shockingly, or perhaps not, the soft-on-crime progressive has two convicted murderers working for his campaign. This scandal somehow flew under the radar until September, when Dr. Mehmet Oz, his Republican opponent, started making it an issue. Even now, the self-appointed “fact checkers” have barely touched the story, and with good reason. 

Dennis and Lee Horton were convicted of second-degree murder for their unambiguous roles in a deadly armed robbery in 1993. The mainstream media have credulously repeated the brothers’ shoddy narrative of the crime, resorting to the usual liberal clichés to paint the Hortons as victims of the system and model prisoners deserving of a second chance. While obligingly noting that the brothers “maintain” their innocence, the Hortons’ advocates have not supplied any real evidence to cast doubt on the verdict and the judgment of the courts, which rejected their appeals repeatedly, that is, until they were sprung out of jail by their pal Fetterman. 

The evidence at trial showed that the Hortons and a third man, a childhood friend named Robert Leaf, held up Filito’s Bar in Philadelphia on Memorial Day. During the robbery, a man named Samuel Alamo was shot dead. A woman and her daughter were also shot. When police caught up with the robbers a mile from the bar, they found a .22 caliber rifle in the back of their car. Eyewitnesses, including the injured woman and her daughter, identified the Hortons as participants in the robbery, and they were convicted of second-degree murder, which in Pennsylvania comes with an automatic life sentence. Leaf was convicted of third-degree murder. 

The Hortons claim that they just happened to pick Leaf up in their car during a fateful beer run without realizing he had just killed someone. This dog-ate-my-homework story has been repeated by Fetterman and most media, including the publicly-funded PBS. 

Without any meaningful exculpatory evidence, the Hortons and their advocates have made much ado about nothing. Exhibit A is a police note marking Leaf as the shooter that the Hortons obtained from the so-called Convictions Integrity Unit, an office established by far-Left prosecutor Larry Krasner. The trial court heard from three witnesses that Dennis Horton, not Leaf, killed Alamo. For good measure, the Hortons invoked hearsay from a cellmate claiming that Leaf confessed to the murder and asked for a DNA swab from Leaf’s sweatshirt. 

The Superior Court of Pennsylvania found last year that none of these challenges would raise any doubt that the Hortons participated in a lethal armed robbery, which under Pennsylvania’s laws made them liable for second-degree murder. Fetterman, not surprisingly, has blasted the state’s murder laws as unjustly harsh. The Hortons’ frivolous plea was likewise based on vague, sweeping complaints about the police process that the courts found unpersuasive, not to mention contradictory: while much of their case was premised on police being told initially that Leaf was the shooter, the Hortons sought to discredit eyewitnesses who identified them as robbers with blunderbuss attacks on the validity of eyewitness testimony in principle. This is criminal justice, progressive style: ignore the evidence, and attack the system. 

The Hortons spent almost 30 years in jail before Fetterman came to their rescue last year with a pardon that he orchestrated from the Board of Pardons, which he runs and has used to aggressively pursue a reformist agenda. Fetterman now accuses Oz, with typical self-righteousness, of “smearing” the “wrongfully convicted” Hortons. By Fetterman’s circular logic, they are “wrongfully convicted” because of a pardon that Fetterman himself helped to secure. 

Even Josh Shapiro, the Democratic progressive candidate for governor, initially opposed pardons for the Hortons. But they became an important piece of a phony personal narrative for Fetterman, who with odd familiarity described the brothers as two of the “kindest and hardest-working people I know.” Coming from the man who was living off his parents until middle-age, that isn’t much of a compliment. 

Of Fetterman, one can at least say he’s consistent. He is sticking by the Hortons, even inviting them to introduce him at a recent rally in Philly. A menacing photo shows the two men standing on either side like sentries to their oafish savior. “We were forgotten men,” Lee Horton told the fawning New York Times. “Nobody was paying us any mind. John Fetterman reached out and pulled us up. He saved our lives because there’s no doubt we would have died in prison.” 

What does Alamo’s family think of all this? “They took a human life, and they don’t deserve to be out in society,” Alamo’s brother told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2020. 

While the deranged ideologues in our media treat criminals like saints, the real victims get buried. These men committed a serious crime, were found guilty by a jury of 12 peers and had their appeals rejected again and again. The system worked. They are only free now because a political hack who wants to break that system found it expedient to let them out.

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About Matthew Boose

Matthew Boose is a Mt. Vernon fellow of the Center for American Greatness and a staff writer and weekly columnist at the Conservative Institute. His writing has also appeared in the Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter @matt_boose. ‏

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

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