On June 27, my sister Janice Airey and I traveled to Harrisburg to ask for mercy for the man who killed our brother. I asked the Board of Pardons, which includes Attorney General Josh Shapiro and corrections expert Harris Gubernick, to give Craig Datesman a second chance. They did not listen.
I am the younger sister of Jeff Birli. In the fall of 1982, Craig, a friend of my family, ended my brother's life. At the time of Jeff's death, I felt betrayed and angry. Who wouldn't? I loved my brother very much. When the verdict in his case came down, I felt justice was done. I wanted my brother's killer punished.
But people change. Over the years, I learned that Craig was making the most of his time in prison and had worked to better himself.
Eventually, Craig reached out to our family through a victim advocacy program. Even though he was sentenced to a mandatory life without parole sentence and had no real chance to come home, he expressed his remorse in a letter.
About nine years ago, we met. Sitting across from me was that same family friend I had known as a child. I saw that he was in so much pain. I told him what my family went through after my brother was killed. Craig made no excuses as he tearfully shared his feeling of remorse and helplessness knowing he could not bring back my brother.
What transpired that day was deeply human. I felt compassion, understanding, healing, and respect for the man Craig has become. He did not have to subject himself to this meeting, but he chose to do so.
I now feel strongly that Craig has paid for his crime. He has served enough time and belongs with his family who has suffered while he has been incarcerated.
Craig filed a petition with the Board of Pardons to have his life sentence commuted. Commutation is the only way people sentenced to life without parole as adults can come home. It is an extremely rare occurrence since the process was reformed in the 1990s to require a unanimous vote from the Board of Pardons in order to commute a life sentence.
My sister Janice and I traveled to Harrisburg to show our support. We thought that if we testified on his behalf, Craig might be able to come home. After all who wouldn't show compassion when two sisters of the victim were calling for it?
Sadly, our voices were ignored. The Department of Corrections was also ignored. They have firsthand knowledge of Craig's conduct over the years and recommended commutation.
Shapiro and Gubernick both voted against Craig. As a sister of the victim, this leaves me wondering if they were listening at all.
If Craig is not worthy of commutation, then who is? Where is the accountability when Board of Pardons members can ignore family members of the victim and the Department of Corrections? Are these individuals really concerned with doing what is right or are they more concerned with the possibility of future appointments and the future of their political careers?
In the aftermath of Craig's public hearing, I learned of two bills, Senate Bill 942 and House Bill 135, that will give deserving lifers like Craig the chance to go before the parole board.
I hope those bills pass and that one day the parole board will listen to my voice as well as the Department of Corrections' so that Craig Datesman may come home to live his life in peace.