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A 1982 murder, a capital sentence, two escapes and now, a reprieve from death row

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Joseph Kindler gets off a plane at Philadelphia International Airport in September 1991 after his extradition from Canada and is turned over to Philadelphia Police.

Three decades ago, Joseph Kindler was a serial burglar convicted of murder after tossing a potential witness into the Delaware River with a concrete block tied around his neck.

 

Kindler then escaped from prison twice — once with the help of another inmate, the other time using bed sheets as a rappelling line. And he nearly caused an international incident when officials in Canada, where he’d fled after his first escape, initially balked at extraditing him back to Philadelphia to face a death sentence, an illegal punishment north of the border.

Kindler’s colorful legal history likely came to an end Thursday, when the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office agreed to vacate his death sentence and instead keep him in prison for life.

 

“What I did,” Kindler said in court, “still haunts me to this day.”

 

Kindler’s release from death row fits with the stance of District Attorney Larry Krasner, who on the campaign trail last year pledged that he would never seek to impose capital punishment.

The position went unmentioned at the Criminal Justice Center during Kindler’s hearing; Anthony Voci, head of the district attorney’s homicide unit, instead said prosecutors agreed with Kindler’s lawyers that he had made “an extraordinary adjustment while in prison,” citing his becoming a Jehovah’s Witness and even inventing, from his cell, a patented wireless smoke detector.

But one of Kindler’s attorneys, public defender Andrea Konow, said after the hearing that she had been fighting in court for Kindler to be removed from death row since 2013 — and it wasn’t until after Krasner took office that she felt sustained agreement that Kindler deserved to have his death sentence dropped for good.

“We’re extremely pleased,” Konow said. “Mr. Kindler has truly made a remarkable adjustment.”

Kindler became eligible for resentencing in 2011, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ordered his death sentence vacated due to ineffective assistance of counsel.

At issue was the fact that Kindler, at trial, had barely any witnesses or evidence presented on his behalf as jurors weighed capital punishment. The practice, known as mitigation, is standard today but was a relatively new concept when Kindler was tried in 1983.

He had been arrested a year earlier, after the body of 18-year-old David Bernstein was found in the Delaware River near Bensalem with 20 head wounds from a baseball bat and a chunk of concrete tied around the neck. Bernstein, before he was killed, had agreed to testify against his friend Kindler regarding burglaries the two had committed together.

While awaiting trial on murder charges, Kindler twice escaped from prison. The first time, in 1983, he and another convicted murderer, Reginald Lewis, escaped after Lewis flooded his cell, yelled for help, and assaulted the guard who responded.

Montreal. Authorities hesitated to return him to Philadelphia to face the death penalty because they had outlawed the punishment. But they eventually relented out of fear that their country would become a safe haven for American killers fleeing the law.

In 1986, however, before he had an extradition hearing, Kindler broke out of a Montreal jail when fellow inmates lifted him onto the prison roof through a skylight and he rappelled to freedom using a rope of bed sheets. He was discovered two years later in the Canadian province of New Brunswick after being recognized on the television show America’s Most Wanted. He finally was extradited to Philadelphia in 1991.

In court Thursday, Kindler, wearing a blue prison uniform and eyeglasses, acknowledged his troubled history while reading from a statement. But he said he had become a JehovahÂ’s Witness upon his return to Pennsylvania, and accepted responsibility for his crimes.

No family members were in attendance, but Konow said Kindler’s father — who is in his 80s and in poor health — had visited his son in prison regularly for many years. The elder Kindler converted to become a Jehovah’s Witness after interacting with his son, Konow said.

Speaking to Common Pleas Court Judge Rose Marie DeFino-Nastasi, Kindler — who will be returned to a general prison population after years in solitary confinement — said he hopes he will be forgiven for his actions.

“I am truly sorry,” he said, “for what I’ve done.”

Read more: http://www.philly.com/philly/news/crime/philly-man-who-was-murderer-burglar-notorious-fugitive-gets-a-death-row-reprieve-20180301.html

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    • It is worth a simulated launch, I guess—presenting the idea—but I’m glad that it blew up on the pad. It would have been lost on most people. Relatively few catch the implications of anything. They take it at face value—“Space: The final frontier: these are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise—it’s continuing mission: to seek out new world’s, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” On a flight to Damascus, Bill had a vision of such. Some odd fellow that he took for an angel presented the idea to him right there on the Shatner wing. Like Paul, it disoriented him completely for a time, and the other passengers heard of the disturbance, sure enough, but witnessed nothing themselves. As a boy, I never once trembled when they launched a rocket from Cape Canaveral. I always took it in the spirit of advancing technology, advancing exploration. It’s one of the few accomplishments of men that has NOT been quickly put to military use, as airplanes were.  In contrast, WWI was not only perceived by just about everyone, but it was instantly perceived as a negative. Probably that’s what the other—how many were there then—GB members pointed out, sending Bert and his co-astronauts scuttling off to the pantry for a donut. Robocalls from the cloud, on the other hand, ARE perceived as an instant evil, as any time-share owner in the Everglades knows.
    • If you think they use it for their own purposes then why do you donate?  That is not logical. It depends on what you define as own purposes, private purposes, public purposes, necessities, etc.  I think you really should be more thankful to be associated with the organization and what it does for us.
    • My donations are always by check, and written thereon is "for local needs". It's like paying taxes, some of which are used to make hydrogen bombs, and ICBMs. Not my problem. Jesus and the Apostles needed NONE of those things you mentioned, Arauna. If you are NOT inspired of God, as the GB admits they are not ( February 2017 Watchtower), you do need all of those things you mentioned. They are actually essential, as I would freely admit. .... and HEY!, I am just guessing about all of this ... as is everyone else. And Arauna .... did you get NOTHING out of the "Follow Jesus" Assemblies? Jesus set the example . We are either following that example, or ..... WE ARE NOT. The fact of the matter is that the GB DOES use the billions for their own purposes. but, I am, as you stated, "no one to criticize" ... as I do not follow Jesus' example either. If I had that kind of money, I would buy a Chinook double rotor helicopter, instead of Rolex watches, and cartoons of Caleb and Sophia, etc. uh ... for Witnessing on beautiful Pacific Islands, of course ....    
    • Just one question for you:  when you go to meeting or field service you get to use many videos that were made to be easily accessible for all ages and peoples.  Do you have any clue what equipment costs?   Many poor congregations in Africa receive projectors from the organization because they cannot afford it. They do still print bibles and watchtowers etc. Do you think they must remain in the Jurassic age when it comes to using technology or will it be ok by you if they venture to use the newest tech to support the brothers? You have a budget to fulfill your responsibilities at home.....dont you?  Why not broaden out and see that they also need money to provide services in almost 1000 languages?   I think we need a little more gratitude and less criticism...  ALL you see is "billions" which you try to imply are used for their own purposes....  They are always in need of funds to make it stretch further..... because we do get all our spiritual needs fulfilled without cost.  You need not give any donation if you feel they waste it.  You can use all amenities without giving a dime!   
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