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‘Markie’s Law’ vetoed by Governor

Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-Ellwood City, is pictured speaking on behalf of Markie’s Law on the House floor in 2021.

Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed legislation that would have delayed an inmate’s release if the inmate committed violent crimes while in prison.

House Bill 146, known as “Markie’s Law,” is sponsored by Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-Ellwood City, and was named after Markie Mason, an 8-year-old boy who was brutally stabbed to death by a man who was paroled at the end of his minimum sentence for homicide, even after being convicted of committing two separate assaults of other inmates while in prison. It passed the Senate by a 41-9 vote and then the House voted 133-69 to concur with changes made by the Senate to the original bill.

In his veto message, Wolf said the legislation was a misguided attempted to address a tragic event that would increase the minimum prison term after a judge has imposed a final sentence and cause a person to be in prison longer for a conviction that didn’t exist at the time of original sentencing.

“The bill was prompted by the tragic death of an 8-year-old boy, and I sympathize with the family for their loss and for the desire of legislators to make Pennsylvania a safer place,” Wolf wrote. “However, this legislation does not promote public safety, but instead proposes a mechenical and ineffective structure of mandatory parole denial, which is in effect a mandatory minimum by another name.”

Bernstine proposed postponing consideration of a violent inmate’s parole an additional 24 months following the inmate’s minimum release date for each conviction of a violent offense while incarcerated. In addition, it would suspend consideration of an inmate’s parole an additional 12 months if the inmate attempts to escape, smuggles contraband or retaliates or intimidates witnesses while incarcerated.

“Had this animal who murdered Markie Mason remained behind bars, he would still be alive today,” Bernstine said in a news release responding to Wolf’s veto. “How does this bill not promote public safety? The legislation is all about keeping criminals locked up so they can’t be harmful to society.”

Keith Burley, who allegedly murdered the 8-year-old Markie Mason after being released from prison on parole after serving the minimum 20-year prison term for an armed robbery and murder he committed in 1999. According to the Harrisburg Patriot News, Burley was convicted of committing two assaults while in prison. The parole board determined that Burley was not only rehabilitated, but also that he no longer posed a risk to the public at the conclusion of his minimum sentence.

The Patriot News reported in August 2021 that Burley had filed a lawsuit against Bernstine claiming Bernstine defamed Burley, asking for $14 million in damages and an apology. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled Burley can’t sue because introduction of Markie’s Law was a legislative act while Burley couldn’t prove that a case for defamation had been made or that Burley’s legal proceedings had been harmed by Bernstine’s actions and statements.

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