Editor’s note: For years now, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has been trying to reverse the death penalty sentence a jury delivered to a man convicted of murdering Ferne and Bradley Hart in 1984 in Philadelphia’s East Mount Airy section. The killer left the couple’s 8-month old daughter, Lisa Hart, to die in the freezing January cold.
Recently, however, U.S. District Court Judge Mitchell Goldberg blasted Krasner for failing to appropriately reach out to the victims of that crime while trying to overturn the penalty.
After Goldberg’s filing, Broad + Liberty asked Lisa Hart to share her thoughts. This is what she wrote.
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Historically, by all accounts, the office of the district attorney has steadfastly defended the verdict of the jurors in this case. Then suddenly in 2019, that abruptly came to an end.
Why? What changed? The facts certainly didn’t. What is it about this case that would warrant this type of an about-face? This was no spur of the moment crime of passion. It was months of harassment and terrorization which culminated in torture and a double murder — just short of the triple murder intended.
The facts are horrific. My heart continuously breaks as I think about all that my parents endured leading up to their murders. They had struggled through years of infertility. My mother had reached the place where she had practically given up hope. Then finally came the realization of their dreams. The baby they had longed for.
But soon, their joy is cut short by a menacingly escalating series of break-ins, the last of which shakes them to the core as they arrive home to discover their home completely wrecked. Urine and feces spread everywhere. All the food in their refrigerator thrown about. Family photos with our faces scratched out. An “X” slashed into their baby’s mattress and a baby doll hanging from the ceiling. A picture of my father stabbed into the wall with a knife during a burglary of their church the following week.
This was five whole months before the home invasion in which they would be murdered. Security systems were put in place, but a security system does little good when you have no idea who’s been targeting you and they turn out to be someone you recognize as having done some renovation work on your home in the past. So you open the door to find out the purpose of their visit and it’s all downhill from there.
I imagine the guilt my father must have felt for opening the door while they had my parents tied up, waiting, as the details of their killings were being worked out. What was going through his mind as he was dragged downstairs to the basement away from his family? What was going through my mother’s mind as she was forced upstairs to the bathroom?
I’m fairly confident about my father’s thoughts, but I have no doubt about my mother’s. I’m a mother now, myself. I know her thoughts were to her eight-month-old baby. The eight-month-old baby who would’ve been in that clingy to mommy, “stranger-danger” phase. The eight-month-old whose mother was her very life. The eight-month-old who was left on the floor next to her dead mother crying and wondering why for the first time those cries didn’t elicit her mother’s comfort — or any response at all.
I spent the following days in a home where the heat had intentionally been turned off in hopes that the elements would bring about my death once he determined his hands were suddenly not up to the task. Crying from hunger pains turned into complete starvation. Crying from the discomfort of a soiled diaper turned second skin. Crying that the person whose voice, and smile, and love made my world spin, wouldn’t even look at me.
The loss of my parents forever changed my life. My world was destroyed. And though it has been rebuilt over the decades, the faults in the foundation still remain. Is it safe to trust anyone? Are they just going to leave too? Am I safe? Will the night terrors, the darkness of anxiety and depression ever end? Can I protect my own daughter?
If God didn’t keep me, from then until this very present moment, I would not have survived. What didn’t kill me physically would’ve killed me emotionally, psychologically, mentally, spiritually. The realization of my loss doesn’t lighten. It only grows heavier as I age. When I have one of those difficult, sole-crushing days of motherhood, I wish I had my mother’s wisdom to lean on. I see moms at the playground with their parents helping and playing with the kids and I feel a tinge of sadness for myself and for my daughter. It always ends in joy, though, as I watch them and feel the happiness and relief that their story got to be different.
I wish everyone’s story could be that way but sadly there are many like me. Many whose lives were forever upended by the selfish and callous decisions of another. Living a life just short of full color. Missing the love that once was theirs.
Every victim of violent crime deserves justice. But sadly, the very foundations of justice are being eroded. Institutions that are supposed to fight for and protect victim’s rights are now more concerned with the rights of criminals.
If it was just about first-time non-violent offenders, I could understand. If it was about cases with serious mitigating circumstances that really need to be re-examined, I could understand. If it was about that juvenile that’s been trapped in his life and just needs someone to take a chance on him, I could understand. There are changes that do need to be made. But it’s morphed into all criminals and all crime no matter how violent or heinous it may be. And where there are no consequences, the criminals live emboldened, and the everyday citizens are forced to live in fear.
A life is only worth the value we place on it. Criminals place very little to no value on the life of another person and when we reduce and remove consequences, when we go so far as to even undo the justice of the past, we affirm their valuation. Robbery, sexual assault, rape, domestic violence, murder. The perpetrator of those crimes has already determined that his needs and his life were the only ones that really mattered.
District attorneys like Larry Krasner look at them and say, “You know what? You’re right.” So, it doesn’t matter if we believe women or men. It doesn’t matter what the accusation is. The outcome is already determined. If you commit a crime in this city, violent or non-violent, past or present, don’t worry about it. The DA’s office is under new management now and they’re going to make sure your rights are the only ones protected.
And now let’s come back to my case for a moment. Were my rights as a victim protected? Did the DA’s office contact me to discuss their plans and hear my thoughts? Has Krasner’s office ever contacted me since they determined to go down this road in 2019? When the DA’s office learned how I felt about what they were doing, did they try to come together with me and explain their thinking? Or did they instead seek to ensure that neither I nor my family played a part in the proceedings — unable to testify, our letters to the judge holding no merit.
After all their attempts failed, they were sure to object one more time to my presence and involvement in the proceeding as I took the stand. If the DA’s office is no longer about the business of protecting victims’ rights nor about the business of prosecuting crime and enforcing consequences to attempt to prevent future victims, who is?
The DAs office is a shambles, a shadow of what it once stood for. It seems to be setting the entire city on a crash course to the same.
Thankfully, all hope is not lost just yet since there are federal judges like Judge Goldberg who are still willing to fight for justice and victim’s rights. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity he gave my family and I to be heard and for his commitment to exploring all the facts of the case and holding those responsible who don’t do the same. Thank you, Judge Goldberg, for your integrity and compassion. Words are truly inadequate to express my gratitude.
Lisa Hart is a former nurse turned full-time wife and homeschooling mom. Her faith in God keeps her through challenging times and enables her to share the hope she’s received with others.