Fetterman accuses Dr Oz of ‘sad and desperate smear’ with misleading claim he hired ‘convicted murderers’

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman has harshly responded to rival Mehmet Oz’s misleading attack over his employment of two brothers who were once sentenced to prison for murder before being pardoned.

The television personality and Republican candidate for US Senate highlighted the story of Lee and Dennis Horton, who now work for Mr Fetterman’s campaign as organisers, as part of a larger Twitter thread criticising the Democrat’s work on the state pardon board as proof that Mr Fetterman is “the most dangerous and radical Democrat running for U.S. Senate this year.”

The attack on Thursday was echoed by the Republican party at large.

“John Fetterman has a long record of being soft on crime, which he constantly tries to hide from voters and the press. He wants to release one-third of inmates onto Pennsylvania’s streets and now has two convicted murderers working on his campaign,” National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesperson Lizzie Litzow said in a statement.

“He needs to start putting Pennsylvania communities ahead of murderers and other criminals and can start by firing the two convicted murderers he’s employed.”

The Independent has contacted the Fetterman campaign for comment.

Indeed, the brothers were convicted of murder in what Dr Oz called a “horrific shooting,” but that’s not the full story.

The pair went to prison because they picked up the man who committed the 1993 murder, unaware he was the killer.

The brothers were convicted of second-degree murder and given an automatic life sentence. At the time, Lee was a father of four, and Dennis was engaged.

In 2020, the state pardon board, which Mr Fetterman led as lieutenant governor, recommended commuting their sentences, and they were freed a year later, more than a decade after the murderer himself.

The two men spent their time in prison counseling others and working on restorative, and Mr Fetterman became a champion of their cause, part of his larger efforts to reduce mass incarceration.

In May, the lieutenant governor told the Philadelphia Inquirer he knew that working with the Horton brothers might prompt attacks, but it was the right thing.

The Democrat swiftly shot back at Dr Oz’s reference to the men in his latest attack.

“This smear is a sad and desperate attack from Dr. Oz’s shambolic campaign,” he said in a statement. “Going after two campaign staffers is a new low for Dr. Oz. Dennis and Lee, who were wrongfully convicted, are two of the kindest, hardest-working people I know—fighting for their release was one of the proudest moments of my career and I’m honored to have them on this team.

“Does Dr. Oz believe that the wrongfully convicted should die in prison? Does this man have any compassion? He’s making a predictable and fear-mongering attack against two men who spent 27 years in prison for a crime they didn’t commit.”

Mr Fetterman is an opponent of life sentences, and increased the number of pardons and commutations under his tenure on the state board, a significant shift in a state with the second largest US population of lifetime prisoners with no chance at parole.

“To be worried about those ads is to say, ‘I’ll let you die in prison because of my own political insecurity,’ and that is disqualifying for an elected official,” he told the paper, adding, “I said this to Lee and Dennis: ‘Whatever this may or may not cost my career, me politically, we’re gonna get you out.’”

Polls show Mr Fetterman leading Mr Oz by about five percent in their Senate race.