Benner inmate petitions to have murder sentence commuted

An inmate at Benner state prison was charged after allegedly possessing 10 balloons filled with K2.
An inmate at Benner state prison was charged after allegedly possessing 10 balloons filled with K2. Centre Daily Times, file

He killed a man when he was just 15 and has spent the past 18 years behind bars.

Now Robert Hudson is getting a chance at another hearing. He’s up for commutation.

Hudson was in ninth grade back in March 1999 when he killed Robert Hawks, 35, in the home of Hawks’ girlfriend, Michelle Clark, in Johnstown. Hudson was involved in a sexual relationship with Clark at the time and testified that he committed the murder at her behest.

Clark is serving a 12- to 30-year sentence at Cambridge Springs state prison for her own counts of criminal conspiracy, criminal solicitation, statutory sexual assault and involuntary deviate sexual intercourse with a person younger than 16.

Hudson, now 34, who pulled the trigger in Hawks’ shooting, got 25 to 50 years for third-degree murder and criminal conspiracy. He is incarcerated at Benner state prison.

Hudson is not due for release on the minimum side of that sentence until March 2024.

“An applicant for commutation is asking the board to recommend to the governor a reduction in his or her minimum sentence to allow for release from custody. In cases involving violence, the vote of the board must be unanimous. Other types of cases require a majority vote of the board,” said James Kurish, press secretary for Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Michael Stack.

Stack chairs the state Board of Pardons.

“The Board of Pardons can only make a recommendation. The governor has the final say,” Kurish said. “In both pardons and commutation cases, neither the governor nor the board can act alone. The board must recommend for the governor to pardon or commute.”

This is not Hudson’s first try for commutation. He was unanimously denied in 2012. In June, during a merit review, Kurish said he was denied by a vote of 4-1, but the board reconsidered in September, prompting a public hearing Thursday.

In February, the state Superior Court denied an appeal of a Cambria County Court rejection of a Post-conviction Collateral Relief Act petition from Hudson. According to court records, the appellate court’s decision was based on procedural reasons.

The PCRA petition should have been filed within a year of his 2000 plea bargain. Instead, it was filed in December 2015.

A president has the power to reduce prison sentences for people convicted of a federal crime. President Barack Obama used the power more than any of his predecessors. Here's insight into the record number of commutations.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce