Living With MurderListen
Raney Aronson I’m Raney Aronson, executive producer of the PBS series, FRONTLINE, and you’re listening to The FRONTLINE Dispatch. This time, “Living With Murder," in collaboration with the public radio website Transom.org, and a continuation of our series on juvenile lifers. On the last episode of The FRONTLINE Dispatch you heard, “A Life Sentence: Victims, Offenders, Justice and My Mother” from producers Samantha Broun and Jay Allison. If you haven’t heard it, it’s worth going back and listening to that first. It’s about a violent crime Samantha’s mother survived and how testimony Samantha gave in the aftermath made it increasingly hard for lifers to be released from prison in Pennsylvania. But a series of recent Supreme Court rulings may change that.
Audie Cornish NPR The U.S. Supreme Court has offered a chance of release to about 2,000 prisoners.
Nina Totenberg NPR Today, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that, “A life without parole sentence is always unconstitutionally cruel and unusual punishment..."
Raney Aronson These new rulings focus on a special kind of prisoner – those convicted as juveniles and given mandatory life sentences. These sentences are now being reexamined, and juvenile lifers who thought they’d never get out are now having the chance to be free. One of them is Kempis Songster. A caution, the program contains descriptions of violence and may not be suitable for some listeners. Here is Samantha Broun.
Samantha Broun There’s a conversation happening in this country about second chances. If you’re not involved with the criminal justice system because of work or family, interest or circumstance, you may not know about it. I do. Because my mother is the victim of a violent crime.
Samantha Broun Hey!
Kempis Songster Hey! Good morning, Sam. You’re recording right now?
Samantha Broun I am recording right now.
Samantha Broun The first thing I just need to just say to you is that I'm recording this for FRONTLINE for their podcast, The Dispatch…. I just want to make sure you're okay with that?
Kempis Songster I'm-I'm fine with it. This is very, very important you know for everybody. I think this is really timely for real.
Samantha Broun That’s Kempis Songster. He knows about the second chances conversation too. In 1987, he murdered a young man named Anjo Pryce. Despite the fact that Kempis was only 15, he he was convicted of first-degree murder and received a mandatory life sentence without parole. He’s what’s called a juvenile lifer. Sentenced to life in prison when he was a child. He’s 45 now and has spent the last 30 years locked up. There are hundreds more juvenile lifers like him in Pennsylvania. And thousands more across the country.
Samantha Broun Do you have a window in your cell?
Kempis Songster If you want to call it that.
Samantha Broun Can you see trees or the sky?
Kempis Songster Noooo.
Samantha Broun I know about the second chances conversation because my mother is the only surviving victim of Reginald McFadden. A juvenile lifer from Pennsylvania who was given a second chance back in the mid-90’s. Within months of being released, he brutally attacked my mother and murdered others. It was a second chance that went horribly wrong. After it happened, I was angry and scared. I even testified in front of a senate judiciary hearing in Harrisburg to make it more difficult for people like McFadden to get a second chance. People, it turns out, like Kempis.
Kempis Songster To bring up the name of Reginald McFadden…it’s a third rail and it’s a trigger. And, you know, not just for people on the outside, not just for victim’s advocates, you know, but for people on the inside as well. People sentenced to death by incarceration, quote and unquote lifers.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Samantha Broun Simply put, Kempis and I are an unlikely pair. I met him because of a radio piece I produced called “A Life Sentence” which was the previous episode of this podcast. It’s the story of what happened to my mom. A few months after the piece came out, I found myself in front of an auditorium full of men at Graterford Maximum Security Prison in Pennsylvania. I was in Pennsylvania a lot in the months after that story came out. Wanting to talk with people about what happened as a result of Reginald McFadden’s release. How it permanently changed my mother’s life. How it changed things for lifers in Pennsylvania. Kempis was in the audience at Graterford that night. He had heard the piece on the radio and knew I was coming to listen to the story with the men there and have a discussion with them afterwards. What I learned on those visits to Pennsylvania is that after Reginald McFadden happened, instead of getting better at deciding who to give second chances to, Pennsylvania had basically stopped offering them at all. What little hope juvenile lifers like Kempis had for a second chance were gone once McFadden went on his spree. But a recent series of Supreme Court rulings may change that-- rulings that use science to show that adolescent brains are still developing and which call mandatory life sentences for juveniles cruel and unusual punishment; rulings that require that juvenile life sentences without parole be reconsidered. Rulings which may give them a second chance.
Kempis Songster There was one time I didn’t even have this light at the end of the tunnel.
Samantha Broun With these Supreme Court rulings thousands of inmates across the country who – at least from a distance – seem similar to the man who attacked my mother might eventually be let out. Hundreds of them in Pennsylvania, where my testimony helped to keep them in. I wanted to see what the process was like close up. And so I asked Kempis if I could follow him as his case was being reviewed.
Samantha Broun Here you are being offered a second chance. And so I want to know what that looks like. I want to know what that’s like for you. All of that.
Kempis Songster Okay.
Samantha Broun I think in this country, people who aren't in prison and who don't have family members in prison are so separate from it. I think it's really easy to not think about it.
Kempis Songster Yeah
Samantha Broun I’m a journalist. But there’s no way to separate myself from what happened to my mom. So, while this story will be about second chances for inmates like Kempis, it will inevitably be about what it means to for victim’s families too. Can someone like me trust that someone like Kempis will do well out in the world? Or at least not do more harm?
Kempis Songster And so i imagine that you-you plan on attending the resentencing hearing, whenever they schedule it?
Samantha Broun I would like to, yeah.
Kempis Songster Okay. I'd like to see you be there. You know, so you can see with your own eyes at least what it's like.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster You know what i'm saying, what the process is like. What's-what-what's happening. I'd like for you to be there.
Samantha Broun Yeah. So, we'll talk on Tuesday?
Kempis Songster Cool. And I remember you said that you — so you were gonna talk about your mom. So I didn't know when was that gonna... do you know when... you have an idea when you want it to...talk about that?
Samantha Broun I-I don't. I, uh, I-that probably feels, I mean, I know that feels as big to me as it does to you.
Kempis Songster Right, yeah. You know that's not-I just, I just wanna be there. I'll-I'll-I'll-I'll accompany-accompany you on that stretch of the conversation. You know, you have to, you have to take me on that part of the conversation, you know what I mean?
Samantha Broun Yeah. But-but I'll also say this Kempis, that if you ever have questions for me about that—
Kempis Songster Yeah, I do—
Samantha Broun You know, I-I-I-I feel like, I do feel like this could and should be a two-way conversation. And-and I—
Kempis Songster Okay.
Samantha Broun Feel comfortable with that. And so, so if you ever feel like there's a moment where you have a question about it, I think it's totally fine for you to turn the tables and ask me.
Kempis Songster Okay.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster I do. I do, by the way, I do.
Samantha Broun Kempis and I began talking in December of 2016. With him sitting at a bank of phones on his cellblock in Graterford and me nearly stuffed in a closet in my house in Massachusetts. One microphone taped to my cell phone and another pointed at my mouth - the only work around I could find after the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections told me I couldn’t record him in person. We talk once or twice a week over the next seven months. Each call lasts 15 minutes before we’re cut off. And every 5 minutes we’re reminded by an automated voice that the call originated from a Pennsylvania Prison. That it’s subject to recording and monitoring. When we are cut off, Kempis calls back again. Four, five, sometimes six times. At this time in our conversation, Kempis was waiting to have his sentence reconsidered by a judge.
Samantha Broun Where are you at right now? Is it-how is it-how does it feel right now for you?
Kempis Songster Sam, I mean sure there’s a biological imperative to be free. All creatures, you know, have a biological imperative to be free. So naturally, there’s that-that-that-that yearning. However, I have no right. You know, I’m not entitled to anything… you know I’m not innocent.
Samantha Broun We’ll get to Kempis’ crime. What you need to know for now is that in 1987 Kempis Songster and his friend Dameon Brome were found guilty of the murder of Anjo Pryce. It was a brutal murder that involved a survival knife. When it was all over, Kempis and Dameon hid Anjo’s body in the truck of Anjo’s car. They were arrested 10 days later.
Kempis Songster I would have loved if my narrative was, you know, there was a bump in the night in my home and I went downstairs to see what it was. And I defended my family and that’s why I’m here, right?
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster I would feel better if that was my narrative, or self-defense or something like that. But that's-that’s not my narrative, you know?
Samantha Broun As a person on the other side of this, I know what it’s like to live with something every day.
Kempis Songster Yeah.
Samantha Broun That it just – whether it’s in your brain or not – it courses through your system. There is some low-grade, something that’s just in your system every day.
Kempis Songster Yeah, yeah. You’re so right because it’s not that you’re trying to forget it. At least for me, it’s not like you’re trying to put it behind you. I think that would add insult to the injury that the act has caused. Because if the families who have lost someone to a senseless act of violence, to my act of violence – cause it’s permanent for them. Someone that used to be here is not here anymore. And is always not here anymore. You know, and that’s how I look at it now. You know that it’s even more than just what I’ve done to an individual, it’s what I’ve done on a cosmic level. I have to convict myself to try to set right.
Samantha Broun In telling you about Kempis Songster, and about how he and Dameon came to murder Anjo Pryce, I do it with the Pryce family in mind. I’m aware they may be listening. I know that this may not be easy for them. I’ve spoken to them too. You’ll hear from them later. I’m also thinking of other victims and their families. I’m mindful of my mother. Always. And, I know there will be those who say that it’s a waste of time for me – or anyone - to listen to the story of someone like Kempis Songster. They’ll say he’s a murderer and his story doesn’t deserve to be heard. I get it.
Samantha Broun Kempis says he was 7 when he came to Brooklyn from Trinidad. He lived with his mom who worked several jobs to support them as a single parent. Records show that Kempis was a smart kid and was placed in gifted classes right away. By all accounts he had a good relationship with his mom and kept out of trouble. Around 12, things began to change.
Kempis Songster I started seeing education as a long, tedious, unnecessary, and life consuming route to the American dream.
Samantha Broun It was the late 80s and crack cocaine came to his neighborhood.
Kempis Songster Crack cocaine affected you whether you did crack cocaine or not. It changed everything. I’m looking at these things. I’m seeing people that — you know, they're losing weight. I’m seeing more people looking ashen. Almost like the undead scurrying about. And I started seeing people my age, you know, shining with mysterious accomplishments.
Samantha Broun What do mean?
Kempis Songster Gold chains. Driving BMWs and Benz’s. I just knew that things had changed and maybe I would have to change with it, you know?
Samantha Broun Kempis told me that by the time he was 14 he was depressed, that he downed a bottle of aspirin hoping he might die. When he was 15, he said his friend Dameon began talking about running away.
Kempis Songster I got a call from him. He said listen. I’m getting ready to leave. I’m going to Philadelphia. So, I’m standing there, holding the receiver to my head. And I’m like right now? And he said, yeah. I’m getting ready to leave. He said, you coming? So I’m looking at my little brother Trey, he’s playing on the ground with his toys. Looking around the house. Dameon is still on the phone. He said, Yo! Are you still there? So I said, yeah, yeah. I’m thinking. He said, speak now or forever hold your peace, man. So I’m tugging a war and, you know, I said all right. Okay, okay man. Where do you want me to meet you?
Samantha Broun It was June. Kempis was a week short of completing the 9th grade.
Samantha Broun: Did you have any doubts?
Kempis Songster Yeah, of course. Of course I had doubts. I never did anything like this. This was a complete break from any kind of respect that I had for my mom. Even though I knew that I was — I definitely knew I was-I was doing something wrong, I didn’t stop myself. I-I-I was—something was still pulling me.
Samantha Broun: Kempis had just started high school when he started to stray. Crime was up and a lot of fear was directed at young people. Specifically, young black men.
TV 1 It is a troubling phenomenon that is blurring the line between children and adults in many criminal courtrooms across the United States. With more and more juveniles committing once unthinkable crimes, judges are taking a harder line when it comes to sentencing.
TV 2 This generation is desensitized to violence. It’s not quite the taboo that it once was.
TV 3 The next generation of young criminals we’re told, will be more dangerous and violent than anything we’ve ever seen in this country. There’s even a name for them: super predators.
TV 4 A super predator is a young juvenile criminal who is so impulsive, so remorseless that he can kill, rape, maim without a-a-giving it a second thought.
Laurence Steinberg During the crime wave of the 1980s and early 90s, people began saying that the juvenile justice system wasn’t doing it’s job and juvenile crime was increasing as a consequence of that…that the juvenile justice system was too soft on crime.
Samantha Broun Laurence Steinberg is a developmental psychologist at Temple University in Philadelphia. He focuses mainly on adolescence and young adulthood.
Laurence Steinberg And you have this really massive experiment done in which every state in the country starts to change the way that it treats juveniles who commit serious crimes, even serious non-violent crimes.
Samantha Broun Bradley Bridge, a long time public defender in Philadelphia, explains that in reaction to these super predator theories, a lot of states around the country turned to mandatory sentencing schemes for juveniles.
Bradley Bridge The theory was that if we incarcerate and incapacitate that group of people, that will have a substantial impact, uh, long-term on crime rates in general. Uh, it turned out not to be true, but that was the theory at that time, which is why a number of states enacted rather onerous statutes, uh, dealing with juveniles that go back to the 80s.
Samantha Broun In other words, starting in the 80s, in response to the super predator theories, states began making life sentences without parole mandatory for first and sometimes second-degree murder regardless of the age of the offender. The result: thousands of juveniles sentenced to life in prison without parole across the country. Bridge explains that Pennsylvania had a head start.
Bradley Bridge One thing that distinguishes Pennsylvania from other places around the world or the United States, is the length of time for which that has been the penalty… Those penalties, the first and second-degree murder penalties, were long standing in Pennsylvania. They go back to the 1800s.
Samantha Broun And so Pennsylvania, where Reginald McFadden was from and where Kempis Songster is now, became the juvenile lifer capital of the world. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, nearly 72% of juvenile lifers from Pennsylvania are black and 9% are Latino. Although the United States hasn’t banned life sentences without parole for juveniles, by 2012 the Supreme Court had ruled that it couldn’t be a mandatory sentence for juveniles, including those convicted of murder. And then in 2016, they declared that that ruling applies retroactively. Meaning any juvenile sentenced to mandatory life without parole needs to have their sentence reconsidered. It was the work of people like developmental psychologist Laurence Steinberg and his neuroscientist colleagues that helped win these cases.
Laurence Steinberg Developmental immaturity mitigates somebody’s criminal responsibility; the same way that mental retardation might mitigate somebody’s criminal responsibility. It doesn’t make them not guilty, but it makes them less guilty in a way that should be taken into account in coming up with a proper punishment, a proper response to the crime.
Samantha Broun By using scientific research and brain scans Steinberg and his colleagues showed that adolescent brains are in fact different than adult brains. Their findings may not come as a surprise to you.
Laurence Steinberg There’s nothing that’s been said about kids in the Supreme Court decisions that people didn’t already think before science was introduced into this discussion. The first is that they make impetuous decisions, the second is that they’re especially susceptible to coercive influence of others particularly their peers and the third is that their characters are not yet hardened. They can still change and that that’s why we should treat them different than the way we treat adults. Well, everybody already knew that compared to adults, kids were impetuous, susceptible to peer pressure and still growing up, but I suppose it carried more weight to say and now we have scientific proof that this is in fact the case.
Samantha Broun Do adolescents know the difference between right and wrong?
Laurence Steinberg Oh sure. I mean, people know the difference between right and wrong when they’re in early elementary school if not before. Your dog knows the difference between right and wrong. That’s a pretty low bar…. It has nothing to do with knowing right from wrong. It has to do with the ability to exercise complete control over your behavior. You know, I mean, there are very few kids that I’ve ever met who decide in a thoughtful premeditative way, “I think I’d like to be a criminal when I grow up.” I mean, that’s not how it happens. It’s just sort of one thing leads to another for whatever constellation of reasons and that’s the train the person gets on. And it’s hard to get off that train.
Samantha Broun When Kempis and Dameon got to Philadelphia, they connected with members of the Shower Posse – a notorious gang from Jamaica that was dealing drugs in cities across the country. They were known to recruit kids to work in their crack houses. They were known for being violent.
Kempis Songster Just being on our own, the excitement of it. The, you know, the adventure of it. Yeah, it was-it was- it was-it was intoxicating. Poisoning, actually.
Samantha Broun And you’re selling drugs?
Kempis Songster Huh?
Samantha Broun You’re selling drugs.
Kempis Songster Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. We’re selling drugs. From going to school a few weeks ago, to selling drugs.
Samantha Broun And can I ask, you never started using crack yourself? Like did you-do you-did y–
Kempis Songster No.
Samantha Broun No.
Kempis Songster No. I never did any narcotics.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster Dameon – the same with Dameon. I hate to put it that we were too smart for that because obviously, we weren’t too smart to be in that situation period.
Samantha Broun And when somebody came…
Kempis Songster They would knock on the door, you would serve them. They would slide their money in and you would slide something else out.
Samantha Broun So you don’t open the door.
Kempis Songster No you never open the door. The door is fortified with two by fours and stuff like that, wedged into the ground and wedged into the floor.
Samantha Broun Kempis says they were handling thousands of dollars a day. But made nothing.
Kempis Songster Well, we wouldn’t get cash. But we once in a while, we’d get clothes and sneaks and you know, nice-nice things and stuff like that. But no cash.
Samantha Broun How would you eat?
Kempis Songster They would bring the food.
RECORDING This is a call from Pennsylvania State Correctional Institution Graterford. This call is subject to recording and monitoring.
Kempis Songster They’d bring the food. So, that was my existence. Yeah. And it was mostly young people. We were kids. Teenagers.
Samantha Broun From all over? Were there other kids who had run away?
Kempis Songster Yeah. You know mostly everybody had left their homes. We were all runaways employed in that situation.
Samantha Broun Anjo Pryce, the young man Kempis and Dameon would eventually murder, had left home too. Anjo was from a large Jamaican family. He was 10 when he came to the United States and was in the 10th grade when he ran away from his home in Florida. His family described him as a talented artist. And the Philadelphia Inquirer said, “he left an unfinished mural about American history on the wall in his high school.” By the time Anjo met Kempis and Dameon, he had been missing from home for over a year.
Samantha Broun While Kempis and Dameon were selling crack, Anjo had been promoted. He’d go from house to house. Bringing more drugs, picking up money, delivering food. Kempis mentions Anjo a lot. He feels an obligation never to forget him.
Kempis Songster What if he never ran into me? He would still be here. And looking at it that way, that’s the most realest way I could put it and it’s the way that cuts deepest into me. But I’ve got to put it like that because that keeps my kite tied to the ground. So that I could never get to a point where I get lost in my own growth and my own development. And I forget that at the end of the day, had this person had not run into me, they would still be here.
Samantha Broun If there are thousands of juvenile lifers across the country, there are thousands of victims and victim’s families. These Supreme Court rulings affect them as well. I asked a crime victim advocate about this.
Samantha Broun So do you—Just going back to these Supreme Court rulings, do you remember when they began to come down what was your initial thought? Were you excited? Were you hesitant? Were you worried?
Jennifer Storm Panic…it was panic.
Samantha Broun Jennifer Storm is the Victim Advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Jennifer Storm As a victim advocate we’ve been able to provide to a family that this individual received a life sentence. So barring any appeals that would overturn that, you never have to deal with the criminal justice system again. What this ruling did was it ripped off that certainty of justice from over 500 families in the Commonwealth and said, “Sorry, but what you thought was true, is not true today.”
Samantha Broun In 2016, when the ruling came down requiring that juvenile lifer’s sentences be reconsidered. Jennifer’s office started reaching out to the 500 plus victim’s families in Pennsylvania.
Jennifer Storm A lot of our families woke up in a different world when all of a sudden, we're calling them and we're sending them notifications that are saying, "The person you thought you were never going to have to deal with again is now not only going to be thrust back into the media, the case is going to be in the media, but you're going to have to come back to the courthouse for their re-sentencing hearing if you want to, to give input." Which most do. Not all, but most do. "And then they're going to be parole eligible, most likely. So you're also the going to have to come to the parole board and talk about the reality of this person coming back into your community," in many instances. These individuals took a life and in many cases horrifically and maliciously and pre-meditatively. That's a lot for people to deal with in a split second. And we're finding it has been incredibly victimizing, and incredibly traumatizing. And the word we keep hearing is "betrayal."
Bobbi Jamriska My name is Bobbi Jamriska and my sister was murdered by her 15 year old boyfriend in 1993. She was pregnant with their baby at the time.
Samantha Broun Bobbi Jamriska is one of the victim’s families Jennifer Storm’s office reached out to.
Bobbi Jamriska She was secretly dating this boy. No one in my family knew anything about it. They had broken up and she realized she was pregnant. She also kept that a secret. So she got to the point where she knew she was going to have to tell my mother that she was having a baby. And so she asked to meet the boyfriend in a schoolyard and try to figure out what she was going to do. And so he brought a kitchen knife to the meeting with her in the schoolyard. And I guess they got into an argument there and he stabbed her repeatedly in the neck and chest. And when they found her body, they actually lifted shoe prints off of her stomach.
Samantha Broun They-Can you say that again? They what?
Bobbi Jamriska They were able to lift shoe prints from him stomping on her stomach, off of her stomach when they did the autopsy.
Samantha Broun Bobbi was in her early 20s when her sister was murdered.
Bobbi Jamriska My sister died in November of 1993, and my mother died in August of 1994. She just couldn't deal. And then my mother's mother, my grandmother, died in that November. So in a year, I basically buried four generations of my family if you include my sister's kid. Right?
Samantha Broun Wow. Wow.
Bobbi Jamriska So, it probably changed everything about the trajectory of my life. Because just to deal with that much of that at that age, when I should have been figuring out what I was going to do with my life and what was going to be next, it was really quite some time just wrapping my head around all of that that had happened, and how to live with it and how to move forward.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Bobbi Jamriska I've had panic attacks. I probably have PTSD even though I've never actually done anything about it. I still have anxiety. I had nightmares for the first couple years fairly often. And just basically at 22, 23 years old shut down for probably quite awhile before I really figured out how to live and how to move on. When all this started to happen where, you know, there were these hearings and these opportunities to speak out... I felt a responsibility to her as well as to all these other victims who maybe can't speak up for themselves, to step out and be more public about it, and-and at least tell this side of the story because quite a bit of the reporting tends to be one-sided about these poor kids that made a mistake.
Samantha Broun …So I know that a lot of the basic premise of these rulings is based on science and neuroscience, which sounds fairly logical to me. You know, the basic premise that adolescent brains aren't fully developed. That while they may know the difference between right and wrong, they often aren't able to stop themselves from doing something that's wrong in a way that somebody older can, and that they still have the potential to change. And I'm wondering do you agree with those basic premises? And if not, where do you differ?
Bobbi Jamriska I probably completely disagree with those premises. And they way that I've always looked at it, and the way that I've always expressed it is, I was a teenager and I probably made some bad decisions as a teenager. But it never occurred to me as a teenager when I had a disagreement to take a knife to a schoolyard and stab somebody to death. It never occurred to me as a teenager to, you know, make a list of horrible things to do to a child and then murder them. It never occurred to me to get a gun and execute a family. Those are some of the cases that I'm familiar with; you know, families that I'm friends with. My own case, obviously. And to say, well they made a mistake, or they didn't have the ability to have judgment, I disagree. There's millions of teenagers in the world and they're not all accidentally or murdering somebody but not realizing the consequences. I disagree. I think if you're someone who calculates and premeditates the murder of another human being, that science means nothing to me. It's more than likely you should not be on the streets.
Samantha Broun I recognize Bobbi’s anger and fear. I hear it in my own voice when I listen to my testimony from the Senate Judiciary hearing in Harrisburg from over 20 years ago. From after my mother was attacked. When I wanted to be sure that someone like McFadden wouldn’t slip through the cracks again.
Samantha Broun Testimony How was all of this possible? That a man, who is sick enough to commit such violent, hideous, destructive crimes just months after being released from prison; a man, who the chief of the South Nyack Police Department describes as having the mentality of a serial killer; how is it that his life sentence without parole is commuted?
Samantha Broun Now, in my conversations with Kempis, my head nods in agreement that sending children to prison for the rest of their lives is harsh. Yes, yes I think. I know people can change. But then my body screams, don’t be fooled! Remember what Reginald McFadden did. How do we know it won’t happen again?
Kempis Songster Yeah. So what are you, what are we talking about today?
Samantha Broun Well, I have to say, now that we’ve brought up the fact that we need to talk about my mom and what happened to her, it’s really hard for me to stop thinking about that. I-I-I just sort of feel like it’s the-it's an elephant in the room kind of thing.
Kempis Songster Yeah. I mean, I’ve been thinking about it all weekend, since you brought it up. You know because I didn’t know if we were going to talk about it today. You know I didn’t know how we were going to talk about it.
Samantha Broun Mmm.
Kempis Songster Let me just say this, Sam. I remember when you came up here to Graterford. And I listened to the conversation that you had after. And I listened to the men, how desperately, they was trying to convey to you how much they — h-how much they appreciated you not seeing us all like a Reggie McFadden. You know, I guess I do want to ask, how have you been able to get to this point?
Samantha Broun Ugh. I don’t, I don't even, I don’t know…I don’t know how to answer that question. I feel like… Ah. This is—It’s hard to talk about this. I feel like, to answer your question, I think I’m a person who’s wired with hope, you know, and wired to see the good in people and to acknowledge people’s struggles. And to see the systems that weigh down on people and make things not fair for everyone. But to have what happened to my mom – to witness that violence and that evil act, it’s really hard to reconcile. I feel like I’m trying to find my way back to believing in that again.
Kempis Songster Yeah.
Samantha Broun And there are plenty of people who are in my shoes who aren’t where I am on this issue. And what would you say to those people? How do we know, how do they know, how can they believe that you’re not Reginald McFadden? And I get that that’s partly informed by the media and politicians who tell us that we should be afraid and there are super predators and…there’s…
Kempis Songster: Nah. I don’t think, I don’t think it’s entirely – I mean. Yeah. You right. That’s a part of it. We know that the media is a part of it. We know the politicians, the tough on crime politicians, but people have every right to be scared. People have every right to be afraid. A lot of horrible things have taken place. You know people have lost family members in gruesome fashion.
Samantha Broun So for me personally, it's like, um, this is about rewiring something in me, that I had before this horrible thing happened to my mom and I’m trying to get back to… It’s like I’m desperate to get back to that. Like I need it to be true that you can change. That you did something terrible at 15 and that you are a changed person now. It’s like a cellular level thing. It’s not—it's, you know…And-and-and to go back to your question of why do I think I can think this way, the, like, one moment that stands out for me, was the first time I saw Reginald McFadden in person. Which was at the court. At the trial. And-and, I had a fantasy seeing him there. I had this fantasy of taking a gun and shooting him. Starting with his feet and working my way up to his knee caps, and all the way up, until he suffered and died. And I realized that if I have that in me, if I have the thought, if my brain can go there, that I would hope that he would have the capacity to remedy himself. To feel remorse, to feel the opposite of that.
Kempis Songster Yeah. Yeah. I mean, agh, yeah. I hope so too. I think about your mom. I don’t know, I don't know what I would say…I think, no I think I do know. I would have to tell her, not on behalf of Reginald McFadden but just on behalf of, just not on behalf of anyone, I just would have to tell her I’m sorry. You know. Because in some ways, I feel responsible, you know, too. You know, I would have to tell her sorry.
Samantha Broun What do you mean you feel responsible too?
Kempis Songster Just, just, I don’t know, I just-that I’ve contributed, you know. I can’t separate myself now from, from violence that takes place in the world, you know?
Samantha Broun Mmmm.
Kempis Songster I can't. Maybe before, if I had never done something like that. But, now that I’ve done it, you know, I’m part of it.
Samantha Broun But you know, I think the longer I live this, the more convinced I am that there is no healing. It’s like the healing doesn’t stop. It shifts. It’s like the trauma doesn’t stop. It, just, it shape shifts. And it, and it sometimes it almost disappears and sometimes it’s so big you can’t see past it. I-I think that’s the thing. It doesn’t go away, and I hope it doesn’t go away for you either. Like I think, I just think, you know, you have to live with what you did too for the rest of your life. And as long as I know that you are carrying that and that that’s propelling you forward in whatever you do, I’ll feel okay. Because, I think it’s the denial of it. Or, the-well it’s done now or that sense that somebody’s healed or it’s been resolved because I-I don’t think it can be.
Kempis Songster I think-I think you’re right. I think you’re right. I’ve been thinking about a possible life outside of these walls. And walking down the street or speaking to somebody…let’s say somebody sees me and knows what I was in prison for, and they yell out murderer. I’ve been thinking about that. You know, thinking about if I tried to do something good or speak about something in society…somebody saying you don’t have a right to say anything, you know, because of…I’ve been thinking about that. You know, and how, how that would make me feel. And I arrived at that same point, that exact point that you just made. That I’m going to have to walk with that for the rest of my life. And I don’t ever want to become, like, insensitive to the pain that I’ve caused. I always want to be re—to-to-to-to-to look at that. And repulsed by it.
Samantha Broun I think talking to you, it changes things. It changes things.
Kempis Songster It does?
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster: How?
Samantha Broun: I think it’s such a simple concept, but…to be able to put myself in your shoes, um.
Kempis Songster Wow.
Samantha Broun And I think that’s partly what you’re saying about hearing my mom’s story, is that for you and for maybe other guys at Graterford, is that they could her and hear how things impacted her, and—
Kempis Songster: Yeah.
Samantha Broun: And so, I just think we just keep going.
Kempis Songster: Let’s do it. Let’s do it, Sam.
Samantha Broun Yeah.
Kempis Songster So, I’ll call you in the morning. Same time. Alright?
Samantha Broun Okay. Alright. Talk to you tomorrow.
Kempis Songster: Okay. Bye bye.
Samantha Broun Bye.
Raney Aronson Next time on the FRONTLINE Dispatch, we continue the story of Kempis Songster, and find out what happens when he is re-sentenced. We’ll hear from the District Attorney’s office:
Chesley Lightsey: Who were these people, really? Who are they when they don't think it matters?
Raney Aronson And we’ll hear from Toshira Pryce, the victim’s sister
Toshira Pryce: I just really hope he’s who he portrays himself to be.
Raney Aronson We’ll get the perspective of a victim’s advocate.
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.
Raney Aronson And of course, Kempis Songster himself.
Kempis Songster Sometimes, people don’t want you to do anything. They just want you to die. They just want you to sit down, sit in a cell and die.
Raney Aronson That’s coming next time on the FRONTLINE Dispatch. Subscribe now in Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss it.
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 fact checking. Thanks to Atlantic Public Media in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. 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, Executive Producer of the PBS investigative series FRONTLINE, and I hope you'll keep listening to the FRONTLINE Dispatch. If you want more stories like this one, subscribe at our website pbs.org/frontlinedispatch or wherever you get your podcasts.
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.