by Cherri Gregg
PHILADLEPHIA (CBS) — One of Philadelphia’s 300 juvenile lifers was re-sentenced on Monday pursuant to a US Supreme Court ruling making juvenile life without parole unconstitutional.READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Center City Hit-And-Run Leaves Woman In Critical Condition, Police Say
He’ll get a chance to go before the Parole Board after nearly 50 years behind bars.
Haywood Fennell was 17 years old when he took part in the robbery, beating, and stabbing of Joseph Hayes in North Philadelphia.
But in the 48 years since, “Red Dog,” as he is called has been behind bars, has made amends. It’s for that reason that a Court of Common Pleas judge vacated Fennell’s mandatory life without parole sentence and accepted the negotiated sentence of 35 years to life.
“Prayers go out to the victim, first and foremost,” says Haywood Carter, 48.
Carter was two months old when his namesake father went inside. He was there alongside his wife, sister, uncles, cousins, and friends as his father learned he would now be eligible for parole.
“He raised me behind walls to be the man I am today,” says Carter, “I’m just glad I’m in the position to help him after these 48 years.”
“If he doesn’t get parole, ain’t nobody getting parole,” says Paul Conway, his attorney.
Conway spent nearly a half hour on Monday reading Fennell’s many accomplishments to the judge in his case.
Fennell took on many trades like carpentry, plumbing, and auto mechanics. An amateur boxer while in prison, he learned how to drive and took on jobs outside of Graterford for more than two decades.
His lawyer told the judge that Fennell mentored inmates throughout the state, including Andy Reid’s son.
“I didn’t have time to tell the judge all the things he did,” says Conway, “he’s done so much.”
One of Red Dog’s most exceptional accomplishments occurred during an attempted prison break during the 1970s when he saved a life.
“He is a man of astronomical character– that’s the best I can give you,” says William Covington, who worked as a corrections officer at Graterford. He attended today’s hearing along with his wife Bunny.
Covington says he was thrown off of a tier and stabbed multiple times by inmates. Fennell stepped in.
“Red Dog was there to assist me with anything I needed,” says Covington, “he saved my life.
Today, Covington and Fennell are friends. Prison administrators admired and appreciated Fennell so much, they applied nine times to have his sentence commuted.
“He should have had his sentence commuted years ago,” says Conway, “but the process is so political.”READ MORE: 'This Is What We Do In A Small Town': Mullica Hill Residents Continue Recovery Efforts Weeks After Tornado
But now, Fennell finally has a shot at freedom.
“I had tears in my eyes that I was trying to hide,” says Edward Jackson, Fennell’s older brother. “All the things that he’s done in there…”
Fennell and his brothers were very poor. Although he only completed the 10th grade, he dropped out to work. He was a fork lift operator when he was convicted, but kept up his strong work ethic in prison.
Fennell’s file was filled with letters of commendation from prison officials for helping to fix plumbing and other problems during emergencies.
“He could fix anything,” says Paul Jackson, his brother, remembering one instance years ago.
“The sewage pipe broke and he sent a letter the next week on how to repair it, and we did it all ourselves,” he said laughing.
Now Fennell will get a chance to fix things on the outside.
During his hearing, he told the judge that he has written to the victim’s family expressing his regret for the crime he committed and asking for forgiveness.
“I’m a true believer that as long as someone is breathing, there is hope,” says Haywood Carter, “and he has worked to make amends.”
Fennell must seek a parole board hearing. It could be weeks, possibly months, before a decision is reached.
Pennsylvania is home to more than 500 juvenile lifers. The Philadelphia DA’s office announced in June of 2016 that it would was reviewing juvenile life without parole cases, beginning with the oldest ones.
Using new sentencing laws as guidelines, they began making offers for lower sentences. A spokesman for the DA’s office confirmed that they have made 65 re-sentence offers and scheduled 26 re-sentence hearings.
The Juvenile Law Center has challenged the DA’s process for reviewing cases. The group objects to both the use of new juvenile sentencing guidelines and the involvement of the parole board.
As it currently stands, any juvenile lifers who accept a negotiated sentence with the DA still must go before the parole board before they are set free. The JLC argues the process burdens the process.
As for the number of juvenile lifers released across the state, the number is small, hovering near half a dozen. The DA’s office could not confirm how many have been released in Philadelphia.
If Fennell gets parole, he’ll have a life on the outside waiting. His family has a reentry plan, which includes a job at a demolition company.
The 66-year-old is in good heath, so he plans to make the best of the rest of his life.MORE NEWS: New Jersey Man Credits Keeping Mind Active As He Celebrates 105th Birthday
“He saved a life and now he’ll be saving even more lives” says Edward Jackson.