Philly lawyer Sprague, active in civic affairs, dies at 95

Richard A. Sprague, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer who prosecuted murderers, won high-stakes civil lawsuits and was deeply influential in state and city political and civic affairs, died Saturday evening, his family announced.

Sprague, 95, died in his home in the suburb of Haverford, said his son, Tom Sprague.

“The silver lining here is that he passed without pain and with his family surrounding him,” Tom Sprague said. “At some point we all have to go, and there’s probably not a better way.”

A livestreamed service at Joseph Levine and Sons Memorial Chapel Inc. is planned for Thursday. Survivors include a daughter and eight grandchildren.

Sprague served as chief counsel and director of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on Assassinations, which probed the killings of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“He had such incredible curiosity about so many things,” his son said. “He would love to read about anything from astronomy to science, and before 630 on most mornings for many, many years, he had already read all of these newspapers and sent around press clippings from the New York Times and other publications to a whole list of family and friends.”

Sprague was also brought in as a special prosecutor in the case of United Mine Workers insurgent Joseph “Jock” Yablonski, who along with his wife and daughter were gunned down in their Clarksville, Pennsylvania, home in January 1970.

Then-UMW president W.A. “Tony” Boyle was convicted and sentenced to three life terms for ordering Yablonski’s slaying during their campaign fight for the union presidency. Weeks after the election, Yablonski was threatening to challenge Boyle’s win as fraudulent. Three men from Cleveland were convicted as triggermen.

The Philadelphia Inquirer said Sprague’s list of clients included basketball star Allen Iverson, former Mayor Frank Rizzo, former State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo, famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey and the late Inquirer owners, Lewis Katz and H.F. Gerry Lenfest. The paper said Sprague helped send hundreds of murderers to prison during 17 years with the city district attorney’s office.

Pennsylvania state courts turned to him repeatedly over many years to serve on boards and other entities, including the Court of Judicial Discipline, which presides over allegations that judges have misbehaved.

In 2016, he was part of a group, with retired state Supreme Court justices, that challenged a decision by lawmakers to rewrite a ballot question making it more likely that voters would approve loosening an existing retirement age limit for judges.

Sprague was born in Baltimore and served on submarines for the U.S. Navy during World War II.

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