Sharon Wiggins' Crime
Sharon "Peachie" Wiggins died on March 24, 2013, of a heart attack at the age of 62. Wiggins spent 42 years in prison at the State Correctional Institution at Muncy. She was sentenced to life without parole for first-degree murder committed when she was 17.
She spent her first two and a half years in prison on death row as a child of 17.
She and two young men robbed the Dauphin Deposit Trust Co. in Harrisburg on Dec. 2, 1968. Armed with guns, they stole more than $70,000.
During the robbery, a 64-year-old patron named George Morelock, who was deaf, entered the bank and grabbed Wiggins. They struggled; and she fired the gun twice. Her co defendant fired more shots, killing him.
Wiggins pleaded guilty, and initially was sentenced by a three-judge panel to the death penalty. She was on death row from 1969 until 1972, when the Supreme Court, in the case Furman v. Georgia, struck down the death sentence throughout the United States, releasing her from death row.
Sharon Wiggins applied for commutation and was turned down 13 times. Once her application made it to the governor's desk.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Miller v. Alabama, which made mandatory sentences of life without parole for juveniles unconstitutional. She was hopeful and felt she would be released.
But the issue of whether Miller v. Alabama should apply retroactively became an obstacle to Wiggins' freedom.
Sharon Wiggins was determined to enact her own brilliant style of rehabilitation. She participated in every program opportunity, earning certificates in diverse skills, among them upholstery, food catering, auto mechanics, paralegal studies, computer programming, cosmetology, construction and architecture.
She was among the first women to graduate with an associate's degree program from Penn State University. She realized that she had to create her own style of guidance counselor since college degree programs were leaving Muncy, discouraged by how few of the women were enrolling. This led to her job as a part-time employee of Penn State, working inside the prison as a liaison, where she was paid street wages.
"She really helped us administer the program," said Mr. Beisel, who had served as the director of the Penn State Williamsport Center. "It was pretty much unprecedented in Pennsylvania and across the country."
He watched as she served as a mentor and volunteer.
"They all respected Sharon Wiggins. They trusted her," he said. "She helped to improve the lives of women within the institution."
Emily Keller, a staff attorney with the Juvenile Law Center, who worked with Wiggins, said her wisdom and kindness helped many women in the prison system achieve a better life.
"She had a really great sense of her position as an advocate for juvenile lifers," she said. "She is really a testament to a child's capacity to change."