No immediate decision on former Philadelphia psychiatrist’s bid for release from prison
By Charles Thompson
December 06, 2013
The four-member board instead opted to take Lois J. Farquharson’s request “under advisement,” essentially giving them more time to review interviews, testimony and arguments presented in the case.
Farquharson, now 88 and in frail health, was convicted in 1974 of masterminding the shooting death of Dr. Leon Weingrad, a physician at the hospital with whom she had a variety of professional and personal differences.
Farquharson – who had been arrested and jailed in 1973 – was found guilty after a jury trial of conspiring with and goading her lesbian partner and one-time psychiatric patient, Gloria Burnette, to kill Weingrad.
Burnette testified that she killed Weingrad to please Farquharson, who, she said, had accused Burnette of having an affair with the doctor, who at the time also lived in the same apartment building.
Farquharson long denied any involvement in plotting the murder, but in 2006, she told the Philadelphia Daily News she had suspected Weingrad of being homophobic and intent on having her professionally disqualified.
Weingrad, among other issues, had apparently been sharply critical of Farquharson’s relationship with a former patient.
Farquharson has never admitted to masterminding the murder, argued Steven Burk, the state Department of Corrections staffer who handles inmate appeals before the board.
But she has consistently accepted responsibility for a role in the shooting because, in her words, she didn’t take her mentally-unstable paramour’s threats of violence to Weingrad seriously and failed to intervene.
“Lois Farquharson has said she was guilty of the highest levels of negligence personally and professionally… and her out of control lifestyle led to that,” Burk said Friday, referring to Farquharson’s heavy drug and alcohol usage at the time.
It was a point Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, the board chairman, came back to several times Friday.
“Part of the criteria I use in determining whether or not somebody is worthy of being granted this extraordinary measure… is an acknowledgment of wrongdoing; of: ‘I did it,'” Cawley said at one point, while questioning Burk.
“What I’m hearing today is: ‘I was negligent in not stopping it. But I did nothing proactively to make it happen.'”
The first step to any commutation of a life sentence in Pennsylvania is a unanimous recommendation from the board of pardons. Positive recommendations then go to the governor, who has the final say on whether to grant a prisoner’s release.
Members did not comment on their decision to defer Friday, which came after about an hour of closed-door deliberations.
From here, the board could list the case for a vote at any future meeting, or reopen the hearing record to take more testimony, according to Chad Saylor, a spokesman for Cawley.
Burk noted Farquharson’s commutation request is endorsed by state Corrections Secretary John Wetzel, and several former State Correctional Institution – Muncy employees testified Friday that she has been a model inmate whom they feel no longer presents any threat to society.
She was also supported by Jane Keller, a Red Lion resident who has befriended Farquharson through prison visits over the last 25 years and has offered to take her into her home after any release.
Farquharson has no siblings or children of her own, Keller noted.
The commutation is vigorously opposed, however, by Weingrad’s survivors.
In a statement read by state Victim Advocate Jennifer Storm, son Aaron Weingrad argued nothing material about the case has changed other than the passage of time, and that his family views Farquharson’s latest request as a continuation of her manipulation.
“Merely growing older is not the same as growing wiser or more decent.”
His brother, Michael, added that for him and his children, knowledge that the person who killed their father and grandfather is still paying for that crime in prison is important to them.
“Don’t make me tell my kids that the person who killed my Dad has gotten out of jail,” Michael Weingrad wrote.
The board’s next scheduled meeting is Jan. 16.
The last commutations of life sentences in Pennsylvania were granted by Gov. Ed Rendell on Dec. 30, 2010, as he was wrapping up his second term in office.
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