Board delays decision in lesbian inmate case
by Timothy Cwiek
Dec 12, 2013 | 653 views | 0 0 comments | 26 26 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The state Board of Pardons has postponed a decision on the clemency request of Lois J. Farquharson, an 88-year-old lesbian who’s been incarcerated for murder for 40 years.

On Dec. 6, the board held a public hearing on her request, then met in private session, and later announced it needed more time before taking a vote.

A unanimous vote by the board is necessary if a clemency recommendation for Farquharson is to reach the desk of Gov. Tom Corbett.

Authorities say Farquharson induced her then-lover, Gloria J. Burnette, to shoot Leon Weingrad, a physician, in August 1971.

Weingrad reportedly didn’t approve of the women’s relationship. Weingrad and Farquharson were neighbors in the Society Hill Towers and colleagues at the old Byberry Mental Hospital.

In 1974, Farquharson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Burnette, who testified against Farquharson, was sentenced to 20 years and was paroled in 1978.

At last week’s hearing, board members heard from several advocates for Farquharson. They also heard from a staffer at the state Office of the Victim Advocate, who read two letters from Weingrad’s family opposing clemency.

Jane C. Keller, a longtime friend of Farquharson, was guardedly optimistic about Farquarson’s opportunity for clemency.

“The board didn’t say no right away,” Keller told PGN. “So there’s reason for some optimism. Lt. Gov. Cawley and Attorney General Kane didn’t even want a public hearing for Lois. Now they want more time to consider her case. That does give me a glimmer of hope.”

If Farquharson is granted clemency, Keller said she’ll provide housing for her, after Farquharson lives in a halfway house for a year, as required by law.

“I hope the process moves forward as soon as possible, so Lois can get into a halfway house and then into my home. At this stage of her life, she probably has very little time left.”

Keller also expressed hope that board members realize Farquharson has memory lapses due to mild dementia.

“Lois obviously has memory lapses,” Keller added. “She may not be able to clearly recall the events of 1971. Her life was chaotic back then, from everything I’ve been told.”

Keller said Farquharson is keeping a positive attitude, despite her frail condition.

“She’s a woman of integrity, and she’s adjusted to her situation. Lois has always tried to make a meaningful life for herself in prison.”

In a related matter, PGN has learned that the board advertised Farquharson’s clemency hearing in The News of Delaware County, which has a weekly circulation of about 10 papers in Philadelphia. A replica of its print edition isn’t available online, so readers couldn’t see the ad by reading the paper in that format.

According to state law, the board was required to advertise Farquharson’s hearing in a newspaper of general circulation in Philadelphia.

Chad Saylor, a spokesperson for Cawley, said the board has a “longstanding practice” of advertising Philadelphia clemency cases in The News of Delaware County.

The board members are Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who chairs the board; state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane; Louise B. Williams, a victims’ representative; and Harris Gubernick, a corrections expert.

Joseph C. Peters, a spokesperson for Kane, said she “would defer to Lt. Gov. Cawley, as chair of the board, for those procedural issues and responsibilities and requirements [relating to advertising].”

Peters had no comment on whether Kane supports a review of the board’s advertising policies.

The board is missing a mental-health expert due to the recent departure of Russell Walsh, a psychologist.

Jay Pagni, a spokesperson for Corbett, said psychiatrist John P. Williams has been nominated by Corbett to fill the vacancy.

Confirmation of Williams’ nomination is pending before the state Senate, Pagni added.

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