Living With Murder: Part TwoListen
Raney AronsonI’m Raney Aronson, Executive Producer of the PBS series FRONTLINE, and you’re listening to The FRONTLINE Dispatch. This time we continue “Living With Murder” the final part of our series on juvenile justice.
Raney Aronson If you haven’t listened to the previous episodes in this series, we hope you'll do so now. At the end of the last episode, reporter Samantha Broun was in conversation with Kempis Songster. Kempis is what's known as a juvenile lifer, convicted of murder as a teen and sentenced to life in prison. But now he may be given a second chance. Samantha’s mother survived a violent crime committed by a juvenile lifer who was also given a second chance. As Samantha says, she and Kempis are an unlikely pair. Up now, in collaboration with the public radio website Transom.org, we bring you the final part of “Living With Murder” produced by Samantha Broun and Jay Allison. A caution, this program contains descriptions of violence and may not be suitable for some listeners. Here’s Samantha Broun.
Samantha Broun By June 2017, Kempis Songster and I had been talking for six months. At the age of 15, he and a codefendant were arrested for the murder of Anjo Pryce. Kempis has been in prison since then. For 30 years. He was scheduled to go before a judge at the end of July to find out if his mandatory life without parole sentence would be reduced. I find myself in a precarious position in these conversations with Kempis. Over 20 years ago, my mother was the victim of a violent crime. The one you’ve heard about. Her attacker was Reginald McFadden, a juvenile lifer out on parole. When McFadden was given a second chance, he attacked my mother and murdered others. At the time, I testified in front of a senate judiciary hearing in Harrisburg to make it more difficult for inmates to be given second chances. Now Kempis, and thousands of others like him – people who were sentenced to mandatory life without parole before they turned 18 - may be given just that. Kempis is in a precarious situation too. If things go his way, he could be set free on parole – something he never thought was possible. If things don’t go his way, he could remain in prison for much longer or for the rest of his life. I asked him what he thinks it will be like to go into Philadelphia for his re-sentencing hearing.
Samantha Broun Will it be the first time you’re out in a van and driving and going into Philly in a long time?
Kempis Songster Since September 5th, 2012. Everybody will tell you this, when you haven’t seen out there for years, maybe decades, and you’re driving through the city and you’re seeing people standing on the corners waiting for busses and crossing the street. Kids with book bags on. And women carrying shopping bags and pushing strollers. And you know…It’s just like, wow! Life! You know?
Samantha Broun Kempis never assumes he’s going home. And with good reason. He’s guilty of a brutal first-degree murder. It happened when Kempis and his co-defendant Dameon Brome had been recruited to sell crack cocaine in Philadelphia with a drug gang called the Shower Posse. They were put in fortified houses and sold drugs through mail slots for hours on end. Kempis made things worse by pocketing some of the drug money he should have turned in. After talking for a couple of months, I finally asked Kempis about the murder.
Kempis Songster Yeah. You mean the actual – the graphics of it.
Samantha Broun No, I don’t even mean the graphics of it I just mean even – I guess I’m hoping that you’ll tell me about that day and what happened that you and Dameon thought that killing Anjo was what you needed to do.
Samantha Broun Kempis begins to tell me but it’s obvious it’s not something he likes to explain.
Kempis Songster But I have to explain. Because if I don’t then that would make everything else that I’ve been trying to explain, like what’s the purpose, you know?
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster You have to explain this part as well. But I just – the more and more I go back to it, the more and more I’m repulsed by it. But um, but I do remember. I do remember that, uh, that day, you know Dameon and I – we were in the house together. We were hungry that day too.
Samantha Broun Kempis and Dameon wanted out. They were tired of not getting paid. Of not getting fed. But after stealing some of the drug money, they were afraid. This was, after all, a violent drug gang. They became paranoid. Kempis said they began to think they might have to, quote, “kill their way out.”
Kempis Songster Anjo came later on that day. And the reason, what makes it so hard to talk about this is because of who he is, who he was. You know, in hindsight, he was nothing like, you know, the rest of the organization.
Phone Recording You have one minute left.
Kempis Songster It wasn’t his fault that he didn’t bring the food. I don’t think he knew. Or maybe he was told not to bring us anything. I don’t know. But it wasn’t – he didn’t deserve what happened.
Phone Recording Thank you for using Securis. Goodbye.
Samantha Broun When Kempis called me back, before we continued I asked:
Samantha Broun How are you feeling Kempis? How is it for you to talk about this?
Kempis Songster Um. Ah. It’s difficult.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster I’m still thinking about how to…you know Anjo’s family gonna hear this. You know? I gotta think about that. I gotta think about those folks. I never thought…you know.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster I got to be considerate. I don’t know how this-what this has caused their family.
Samantha Broun And I know that if I heard Reginald McFadden talking about what he did to my mom, I think it would send me through the roof. You know, I get it. I get it, Kempis.
Kempis Songster Yeah. Yeah.
Samantha Broun And so, even though Kempis described to me what happened, out of respect for the Pryce’s I will tell you the rest of the crime.
Kempis said at the height of their desperation and hunger, Anjo Pryce walked into the crack house with no food in hand and no plan to bring them food any time soon. Kempis and Dameon’s suspicion and anger escalated. They argued with Anjo. Eventually it turned physical and then, violent. Police records confirm they strangled Anjo with a wire tree cutter and stabbed him multiple times with what Kempis called a Rambo knife. The boys then wrapped 17-year-old Anjo Pryce’s body in plastic, and put him in the trunk of his car. Kempis and Dameon were arrested ten days later. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that at the time of his death, Anjo had been missing from home for 19 months. When they got the news of Anjo’s murder, his family was heartbroken. Errol Pryce, Anjo’s father, was so full of anguish, he almost didn’t attend his son’s funeral. A little over a year later, Kempis and Dameon were tried for the crime.
Jack McMahon Kempis Songster and Dameon Brome, uh, I remember them well.
Samantha Broun Jack McMahon was the prosecutor who tried the case against Kempis and Dameon.
Jack McMahon I walked in there with that previous knowledge of what the case was all about, and then seeing viscerally two children sitting in there, you know it had some effect on me. I mean, you know, and-and you felt sorry for everybody involved in this case. The only one you didn’t feel sorry is for the-for the guys that brought them down here and put them in that situation, but they weren’t part of the case.
Samantha Broun McMahon offered Kempis and Dameon a deal: to plead guilty to third degree murder. A likely sentence of 10 to 20 years. The hope was, the boys would give up information about the Shower Posse gang and, in exchange, avoid a mandatory life sentence. Kempis said when the offer was made, he couldn’t fathom spending 10 years of his life in prison. And so against the advice of their lawyers and their parents, Kempis and Dameon didn’t take the deal. They pled not guilty and opted to go to trial.
Jack McMahon I remember leaving that courtroom and looking at those young men, going man, this is a waste. This is a real tragedy. A dead kid, and two kids that are basically lives are thrown away and it was a sad moment.
Samantha Broun At the time, Kempis Songster and Dameon Brome were 16. And, like most of the growing number of juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania, they were black and neither had any prior offenses. Death by incarceration. That’s how Kempis - and many others like him across the country – see the sentence they’ve been given. Sentenced to die in prison. Until, that is, the recent Supreme Court rulings that call mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles cruel and unusual punishment. Rulings which use science to show that adolescent brains aren’t fully developed. Ruling which require that juvenile lifers have the opportunity to show they have changed. And restore their hope for a life outside of prison. But these rulings have very large, very different implications for victims. For Bobbi Jamriska, whose pregnant sister was murdered by her 15-year-old boyfriend over 20 years ago, no amount of transformation is enough.
Bobbi Jamriska Whatever their crime was, you can’t just dismiss their crime and say, “Well, that was 20 years ago and they’ve changed, and he’s been a model prisoner, and got his GED,” or whatever. That doesn’t change the fact there are people — they shouldn’t be in society. Regardless of whatever their record is in prison or whatever they’ve done since then, they should be locked up.
Samantha Broun Bradley Bridge has been a public defender in Philadelphia since 1983. His office represents hundreds of the juvenile lifers currently coming up for re-sentencing. He sees things differently.
Bradley Bridge This group of people, although promised to be able to die in prison, and having no particular reason to better themselves, have. People have gone on and gotten degrees. Their misconducts dropped. They are a very, very stable part of the prison, which is really interesting. I think it says something about humanity in a positive way.
Samantha Broun Beyond behavior, there's remorse, which is something that I'm interested in. How do you know if your client is remorseful?
Bradley Bridge You look at their eyes, you see how they respond, and then you form an assessment the same way you form an assessment about anybody in day to day life, about whether they're telling you the truth. This population is actually generally quite remorseful.
Samantha Broun Dave DiGuglielmo worked for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections for over 35 years. Before he retired, he was the Superintendent of Graterford Prison where Kempis is now. He has a more skeptical view. Here’s what he says about many of the prisoners who show deep regret for what they’ve done.
David Digulielmo Those are what the inmates used to refer to as the professional remorsers. The guys who express remorse for their sins, but of course, the inmates don’t believe it. But so many of them, I think, don’t really care much about what the impact of their actions have on other people.
Samantha Broun Hmm. The professional remorsers?
David Digulielmo Yeah, it’s their job to express remorse for the criminals of the world. They’re the apologists.
Samantha Broun I spoke to Dave Diguglielmo, you know who he is?
Kempis Songster He’s former Superintendent, right?
Samantha Broun Yeah. He said that there’s this term professional remorsers? Have you heard that?
Kempis Songster Professional remorsers.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster I’ve never heard that term but, I um, I, I know what it means, just hearing it. But that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that term.
Samantha Broun What do you think it means?
Kempis Songster I guess, I guess it would mean that their remorse is something that’s manufactured. Or something that’s rehearsed. You know what I mean?
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster Sam, it’s like, and I’ve heard this over the years. A person, while they’re in prison they spend decades changing their lives, you know. Stayed out of trouble. Took advantage of every program, every opportunity to better themselves. Everything that one part of the punishment philosophy is supposed to accomplish which is rehabilitation. Then they might get before the parole board. And then they might hear something like, you’re just trying to be manipulative. You’re just trying to finesse your way out of the situation.
Samantha Broun Yeah. I think there are a lot of people out here who think that’s the case. That think criminals are cons.
Kempis Songster Right. Right. And I’m saying I think that’s just it, sometimes. People don’t want you to do anything. They just want you to die. You know, and I understand it now. They just want you to sit down, sit in the cell and die.
Samantha Broun Mmm.
Kempis Songster And I understand that mentality. I know a guy here he only has one misconduct in 41 years. I mean that’s a whole lot of faking for 41 years.
Samantha Broun How do you know who actually is feeling remorse and-and, verses people who just know what to say?
Kempis Songster I’ve talked to people, Sam – I mean one on one we’re sitting here talking and they start crying. No one around. Just me and him. You know?
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster For an adult man in a prison setting - especially who knows what they’re in prison for - to have that vulnerable moment. That weak moment, they ain’t faking for me. I can’t give them anything. I don’t have no money. I’m not signing their release papers or nothing.
Samantha Broun Knowing that someone truly feels remorse. Trusting that someone really has changed. How do we know for sure? How do we know? I wanted to talk with someone who I knew would understand the moral and practical balance of second chances.
Samantha Broun Do you still believe in second chances?
Mark Singel I do. Yeah, I do, and that, uh, that really says something because I can say without any fear of contradiction that a decision I made that resulted in a second chance for a particular individual, destroyed my political career.
Samantha Broun You might remember Mark Singel from part one of this series. He was the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania back in the early 90s on his way to being Governor. He sat on the Board of Pardons that reviewed Reginald McFadden’s application for commutation. McFadden is the man who brutally attacked my mother and murdered others. Mark Singel was the head of the board at the time. He, along with three other members, voted yes on McFadden’s application.
Samantha Broun I mean, I find myself in this position right now as I'm talking to Kempis, I hear, I hear, I hear all the work he's done ... I mean, this man has read about neuroscience, he wants to understand why he did what he did at 15. And he's spent the last 30 years going over the first 15 years of his life. And when I hear him speak, I hear remorse and it moves me. And-and, yet, I think, would I have felt the same way if I talked to Reginald McFadden before he was released? Would I have heard from him what I'm hearing from Kempis? How do you know the difference? How do you know? And I'm curious, as a person who was in a position, to grant mercy, to give second chances and as a person who had a second chance go horribly wrong, what would you say to the people who are now in that position?
Mark Singel Well, first of all, I think it’s important to acknowledge that we’re not suckers, we’re not chumps. You have to understand that as a public official that you have a duty from the people who sent you there to really develop your radar so that you don’t get taken in. It is easy to get seduced by somebody telling you a good story. I think you have to develop that radar quickly, uh, so that you can tell the difference. Now, having said that, it is astounding and it is moving when you really do come across a case where somebody clearly has earned some consideration. I mean, once they pass the crap test, once-once you're convinced that there is some merit here, we ought to be, at least, willing to hear them out and listen and not just, you know, narrow our eyes or walk around the bodies that are lost to society. We’ve gotta open our eyes a little bit and be a little bit more compassionate. We have the anger and revenge down cold. Everybody’s got that. But the mercy and the, um, charity, we need to develop that piece in an equal amount.
Samantha Broun So, can I ask you a question?
Kempis Songster Yeah, Sam.
Samantha Broun I-I get what you’re saying that this - that you aren’t your worst act but I imagine, you know, when a court says you’re guilty, when you feel you’re guilty, when you know you’re guilty which is what I hear you saying, and-and you’re sent to prison for life, it must take a long time to begin to realize that there’s the option that you are more than that.
Kempis Songster You being declared guilty by an outside entity, the courts, it means something different than when you, when you finally say to yourself, man, I’m guilty. Whether you say it out loud or you say it privately, I’m guilty. That’s when it settles into you on a deeper level.
Samantha Broun Do you remember that moment for you?
Kempis Songster I think what started it really was the statement I read by-by Anjo’s father.
Samantha Broun Kempis was 15 when he read a statement from Errol Pryce in the Philadelphia Inquirer. A statement Errol Pryce has said he doesn’t remember ever making.
Kempis Songster Mr. Pryce. Errol Pryce, Anjo’s father said, “That I feel no rage at these two boys for they are just as innocent as Anjo.” It was just – the fact that he said he felt no rage. And innocent. ‘Cause deep down I didn’t feel innocent. You know, deep down I knew I wasn’t innocent.
Samantha Broun I mean it’s so profound to me that this little missive comes to you from the father of the boy that you killed. And…
Kempis Songster Yeah, and. Go ahead. Go ahead.
Samantha Broun I just wonder—
Phone Recording You have one minute left.
Samantha Broun —Ugh.
Kempis Songster But the most important thing that I felt, Sam – it was shame. I felt shame. You know, I felt so ashamed. Here is this-this man who’s saying this. I felt-I felt ashamed.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster And—
Phone Recording Thank you for using Securis. Goodbye.
Jennifer Storm So most of the families are coming before us now know that, okay, there’s a high or a good likelihood that these individuals are going to get paroled.
Samantha Broun Jennifer Storm is Pennsylvania’s Victim Advocate. It’s been her job, the job of her office, to reach out to the hundreds of crime victim families in the state. To inform them about the Supreme Court decisions and to walk them through the realities and possible outcomes of the re-sentencings.
Jennifer Storm If there is one lesson to be learned about crime victims is that every victim experiences their experience uniquely. And it’s really hard to paint a broad brush over an entire population when there’s 517 cases and there are multiple victims and family members engaged in these cases. And they're all experiencing it differently. We have some people in the family who are at the very early stages of dealing with their grief. We have some who are standing up in court saying, “Release the offender. I forgive him.”
Samantha Broun Anjo Pryce, Kempis’ victim, came from a large Jamaican family. I went to see Toshira Pryce, his youngest sibling, about 10 days before the resentencing. Although she was only 5 or 6 at the time, she remembers when Anjo went missing.
Toshira Pryce I know that my parents were concerned and they were of course looking for him and asking my other older siblings if they had seen him and heard from him and such. But it was like he, it was, he vanished...they didn’t know where he was until they found out he had passed.
Samantha Broun One of the things I’m aware of having lived through what happened to my mom, is the way that trauma stays with a family. And I think it changes and I think it’s different for each individual family member. But I’m wondering how the trauma of what happened to Anjo and-and the grief, how that stayed in your family and maybe how you witnessed it impacting the members of your family.
Toshira Pryce From what I’ve observed I think that they kind of just suppressed the feelings, and, um, and every time it’s brought up, it kind of rehashes those emotions. And then they suppress them again because they’ve gotten so used to just not really dealing with the overall pain.
Samantha Broun And what about you? How has your relationship to it changed over time, if at all, and where do you stand with the upcoming re-sentencing?
Toshira Pryce Where I stand with the case, I think from reading about Kempis, that if he gets a second chance, I would not oppose to it and I wouldn’t be upset about it….I just, I hope that he would, um, take the second chance to make the best with his life and rectify you know, the huge mistake that he made, because he took a life and that life is no longer here. It never comes back. And um, I hope, I just really hope that he is who he portrays himself to be. And I really, truly do think so, because he had no idea knowing that he was gonna be, have a chance to be released.
Samantha Broun That’s generous of you.
Toshira Pryce It’s honest. I’m just being honest.
Samantha Broun And so, how-how is your dad now?
Toshira Pryce He’s okay. It’s just, it's still a loss and I think that even almost 30 years later, that it’s just tough still. Yeah. And especially from all this coming back up again. I-I just see the hurt.
Samantha Broun In the three days leading up to the resentencing, Kempis and I talk every day.
Kempis Songster I went to sleep last night, I think 1 o’clock.
Samantha Broun Mmm.
Kempis Songster I was up thinking about Mr. Pryce. You know, ‘cause from what I understand, he’s going to be there.
Samantha Broun Kempis and Mr. Pryce have never been in the same room before. Mr. Pryce didn’t attend the trial back in the 80s.
Kempis Songster I didn’t think it was possible for this resentencing hearing to become more important. And then when I heard he was coming, I was like, this is what it’s about.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster You know, this is what it’s about. It’s, uh, I never knew how I would approach him. I mean physically. You know? Would I approach him with my head down, with my head up? With my hand out for-to a handshake? Would I look him in the eye? Would I-you know, there’s no manual, there’s no script for this because this kind of thing ain’t supposed to happen.
Samantha Broun I tried to interview Mr. Pryce for this story. We spoke on the phone a few times. He was always warm and polite. We even set a date for me to go see him in Texas. But ultimately, he canceled and then texted saying, “I’m not trying to ignore you but I don’t want to relive this tragic incident again. It happens every time I talk about it. I can’t wait for this to be over.”
Chant When lifers come marching home again, hoo-rah. Hoo-rah. When lifers come marching home again, hoo-rah. Hoo-rah.
Samantha Broun It’s Sunday July 23rd. A large group of supporters have gathered in downtown Philadelphia near the courthouse where Kempis’s resentencing will happen the next day. They’re singing “When lifers come marching home again.” These are supporters of Kempis and people who want to see an end to life without parole sentences for juveniles. The local public radio station reported that there were a couple hundred people there. Many wearing orange t-shirts that read, “I believe in a right to redemption.”
Chant We’d never thought we’d see the day when lifers come marching home.
Samantha Broun Kempis’ mother is there, several aunts, an uncle and cousins. They’ve come from Chicago, North Carolina, New York. Even his grandmother from Trinidad is in town. After gathering in a church, the crowd takes to the streets. Marching with banners that read “End Death By Incarceration” and “Transformation Not Retribution.”
Chant Bring our people home! Bring our people home! Bring our people home!
Samantha Broun I got to the courtroom early the next day and watched as it filled to capacity. And then over capacity. Chesley Lightsey is an Assistant District Attorney and represented the case against Kempis at the resentencing.
Chesley Lightsey I think the process in the courtroom is particularly difficult because there’s been a festive atmosphere on the defense side and I understand why. Because you know, the defendant’s family has waited for this day and so it’s jubilant. But it’s, it’s such a – I don’t know – I’ve had victim’s families who just felt – it made it all the more difficult because for them this was a very somber occasion and-and-and again it made it feel like the whole focus was on the defendant and not on the actual crime.
Doug Fox Many of the crimes that are coming up for resentencing now you would look at and say these are brutal crimes.
Samantha Broun That’s Kempis’ lawyer, Doug Fox. He and the firm he works for have represented Kempis pro bono since 2002. They along with a mitigation specialist, spent hundreds of hours preparing for the resentencing.
Doug Fox So I fully understand a victim’s perspective on this. And so will the judges. But that’s not the issue. The issue is, as the Supreme Court said, were the juvenile offenders and are they irreparably corrupt at this point. Or are they to be given a second chance because they were juvenile offenders.
Samantha Broun By the time Errol and Toshira Pryce arrived at the courtroom, people had to be asked to move so there was room for them near the front. From what I could tell, the Pryce’s were the only two – not counting the D.A. staff who accompanied them in - who were there to represent Anjo.
Beside the court stenographer, the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections does not allow these hearings to be recorded. But I witnessed it all from the front row of the jury box, which is where they put members of the press.
Samantha Broun If you had been there, you would have felt the hush in the courtroom and heard the shackles on Kempis’ hands and feet as he shuffled in. You would have seen Mr. Pryce behind dark glasses. Fidgeting and folded over on himself. Determined to be there but clearly uncomfortable. Then listened to the mitigating circumstances of Kempis’ childhood. How his mom worked a lot and he was left on his own. That he witnessed violence inside and outside his home. That he was depressed and tried to take his own life at 14. You would have heard Kempis’ mother describing him as the “bridge” in their family. Maintaining relationships with both the older and younger generations from inside prison. Witnessed Kempis’ aunt searching for the Pryce’s from the stand saying, “we are linked but by something that is not good…so on behalf of my family…we are sorry.” And then heard former and current prison staff praise Kempis and his accomplishments. A college professor’s statement, that Kempis “is in prison but he is not of prison.” You would have watched as Toshira and Errol Pryce each took the stand. Toshira talking about how difficult this was on her family. How it divided her siblings and destroyed her parent’s marriage. You would have heard Mr. Pryce say, “there’s a victim here that’s never going to get released from where he is. He’s dead.” And describe how his family blamed him for not going out and finding Anjo when he ran away. That he was supposed to fix it but he couldn’t. That there’s been no peace since this happened. How when Anjo’s mother died a year and a half ago, Mr. Pryce found some of Anjo’s clothes in her closet. You’d hear him say that he missed his wife. That he missed knowing who his son would have been. That he missed his son’s art. You would have watched Kempis rise when his time came and heard him ask the judge if he could turn and face the Pryce’s. Which he did. You would have heard him tell Mr. Pryce what his words quoted in the newspaper meant to him, the good things he saw in Anjo even under the terrible circumstances they were in. You would have heard Kempis say how sorry he was over and over. As Kempis spoke you would've seen Mr. Pryce take off his glasses and look directly at Kempis. And you would have heard Toshira Pryce say back to Kempis, “I believe you.” And finally, the District Attorney reminding everyone about the brutal details of the murder. The strangling, the stabbing, that Anjo’s body was left in the trunk of his car. That while Kempis’ childhood may have been hard it wasn’t as hard as some other juvenile lifers. That he came from a large and loving family. That he was placed in gifted classes. She would point out problems in Kempis’ prison record. A prison riot he was caught up in when he was 17. Accusations of assaulting guards in his twenties. Trouble adjusting. Issues, she said, that shouldn’t be ignored. Issues Kempis’s lawyer would dispute. And, when all the arguments had been made, you would have watched as the judge got up to leave the courtroom. You would have sat waiting. Suspended in that room with Kempis Songster and the Pryce family. With the feelings of inconsolable grief and loss and tragedy. And when the judge returned 10 minutes later, you would have held your breath as he resentenced Kempis Songster to 30 years to life. Because Kempis has already served 30 years, the new sentence makes him eligible to go in front of the parole board immediately. His fate, now in their hands. If all goes in his favor, Kempis could be home by Christmas.
Samantha Broun When I spoke with Toshira Pryce the next day she said she “was relieved it was over.” About a week later, she asked for Kempis’ address at Graterford. She said she wanted to send him a letter. I continued to reach out to Mr. Pryce but talking about this isn’t any easier for him. When I spoke to Kempis after his resentencing he said that although the day felt like a rite of passage it also made him realize how nothing he can do will ever fix things, really. As with most things that happen in court, not everyone was pleased with the outcome. If it had been up to Chesley Lightsey, the District Attorney, she says would have delayed Kempis’ possibility for parole by five more years. She stands on the side of caution.
Chesley Lightsey What we’re trying to look at within these records are who were these people really. Who are they when they don’t think it matters? You know, in terms of it doesn’t matter for getting out.
Samantha Broun Are you concerned that he’ll reoffend?
Chesley Lightsey Not in a violent way. Absolutely not. No. I do not think that he will.
Samantha Broun Jennifer Storm, Pennsylvania’s Victim Advocate says of the current mood in Pennsylvania,
Jennifer Storm In this juvenile lifer kind of climate, it is release, release, release….I think in some instances, maybe more people than should be released.
Samantha Broun And for Bobbi Jamriska, outcomes like Kempis’ point to a possible future for the man who murdered her 15-year-old sister and her unborn baby.
Bobbi Jamriska I always tell people, I have to wrap my head around the fact that depending on what happens when he has his hearing, I could literally be walking through a shopping mall and see the person that murdered my sister and her baby, you know, in the store buying jeans like nothing ever happened.
Samantha Broun As of October, 2017, 165 juvenile lifers in Pennsylvania have been resentenced. 81 have been released. And, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, no juvenile lifer released since Reginald McFadden has reoffended. In case you’re wondering, Dameon Brome, Kempis’s co-defendant, went before a judge about a month after Kempis did. He too got a reduced sentence of to 30 years to life. Making him immediately eligible to go before the parole board. The man who murdered Bobbi Jamriska’s pregnant sister was resentenced to 35 years to life. He’ll be eligible for parole in 10 years. Kempis and I have been talking for nearly a year now. We’ve recorded over 35 hours of our conversations.
Kempis Songster I’m that glad we’re doing something like this. There's definitely people that might need this kind of conversation. Might need to be, they themselves might need to be part of a conversation like this. But even if you weren’t recording it. And this was just a personal conversation between you and I, that nobody knows about but you and I. It’s-it’s-it’s important to me.
Samantha Broun Yeah. Me too.
Kempis Songster Yeah. Well, they’re getting ready to cut us off.
Samantha Broun Okay. How about if we talk Friday morning, does that work?
Kempis Songster That’s all right.
Samantha Broun Okay.
Kempis Songster All right. Take it easy, Sam.
Samantha Broun Okay you too, Kempis.
Kempis Songster Alright, bye bye.
Samantha Broun Bye.
Phone Recording The caller has hung up.
Samantha Broun As of this recording, Kempis is still at Graterford Prison. He’s gone in front of the parole board. And he thinks it went well. He should receive their written decision any day now. I’ve thought a lot about trust in my conversations with Kempis, and how I can trust him. But I realize at this point, that’s not a question for Kempis. It’s up to me. Kempis and I continue to talk to each other nearly every week. And we’ll keep talking.
Raney Aronson This story was written and reported by Samantha Broun. It was produced by Samantha and Jay Allison, in collaboration with the public radio website Transom.org. For PBS’s FRONTLINE, the story was produced by Sophie McKibben. Sophie is our Series Producer. Jamie York is our Senior Producer, and our Creative Director and Senior Editor is Jay Allison. Jay also does our audio mixing. Andrew Metz is our managing editor, Lauren Ezell Kinlaw is our Series Story Editor, Amy Gaines is our Associate Producer, and our Special Counsel is Dale Cohen. Lisa Palone helped with the fact checking. Our interns for the first season are Julia Press and Dina Kleiner. Thanks to Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and to Melissa Allison. Music in this episode comes from Stellwagen Symphonette. The FRONTLINE Dispatch is produced in WGBH's Studios in Boston and powered by PRX. I'm Raney Aronson, FRONTLINE's Executive Producer, and I hope you'll keep listening to the FRONTLINE Dispatch. Be sure also to check out more of our reporting on juvenile lifers, including our documentary film, Second Chance Kids, at our website pbs.org/frontline. And please subscribe to The FRONTLINE Dispatch so you don't miss our next season.