Share “Editorials from around Pennsylvania”

Editorials from around Pennsylvania

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 18, 2015 at 2:14 pm •  Published: February 18, 2015

Editorials from around Pennsylvania:



Gov. Tom Wolf had at least five good reasons for his decision to impose a moratorium on carrying out death sentences.

1. The risk of executing an innocent person is too high, given the inevitable human flaws in our legal system. Pennsylvania is home to one of at least 18 cases nationwide where a person sentenced to death was later proven innocent of the crime by DNA testing.

That kind of grievous error happens because, unless the accused is wealthy, the justice system in death penalty cases is heavily stacked in the government's favor.

Indigent defendants typically get a lawyer who is either inexperienced or grossly underpaid or both. (A state Supreme Court study of death penalty legal representation in Philadelphia, the state's largest city, found the pay was "grossly inadequate" and "unacceptably increases the risk of ineffective assistance of counsel.")

On the other side, the full force of the government, with almost unlimited resources, is brought to bear. Highly-publicized murder cases can produce so much public pressure that authorities cut corners to get a conviction. Since 1978, courts have found fatal flaws in at least 252 of Pennsylvania's death penalty sentences and overturned them.

We know that in Pennsylvania, the government's "machinery of death" is deeply flawed.

In Pennsylvania's courtrooms, trying to find the truth of what happened in a murder case is not always a fair fight.

2. A series of botched executions in other states has shown how barbaric the actual process of killing a person is.

Lethal injection is the supposedly "humane" technique of today's executions, but responsible drug makers are hesitant to supply their product knowing it will be used for killing people. It's unclear what drug or drugs Pennsylvania would or could use if it tried to carry out an execution.

3. A sentence of death is not swift and certain enough to work as a deterrent, because of the safeguards needed to protect against executing the innocent.

Pennsylvania has 186 people on death row, but in the past 40 years, the state has executed only three defendants, all of whom waived any further appeals. No one has been executed in the past 15 years. At least two defendants in Pennsylvania have been on death row for 30 years. Nationwide, the average death sentence takes 15 and a half years of review and appeals before it is carried out.

Killing a murderer does protect the public from the chance the person will kill again, but that can be accomplished by imposing life in prison without parole.

Not only that, as State Victims' Advocate Jennifer Storm told PennLive previously, "To have the death penalty on the books and to not enforce it is torture for the victims."

4. A Senate task force will soon report on flaws in how Pennsylvania handles the death penalty and recommend needed changes. Gov. Wolf says he won't sign any death warrants until any problems found in that report are addressed, which is the only responsible course at this point.

5. Finally, while campaigning for governor, Wolf told voters he'd suspend executions, and that's what he's done. While the concept may be novel — a politician did what he said he'd do — those upset by his move should remember: Elections have consequences.

Wolf's move does not say the current defendant whose death warrant he refused to sign, Terrance Williams, is innocent. Prosecutors in heinous cases like that of (asterisk)accused cop-killer Eric Frein remain free to pursue the death penalty. Wolf has made sure to acknowledge the trauma and suffering that victims endure when their loved ones are murdered and the legal process drags on without conclusive resolution.

What Gov. Wolf is saying is this: We know that in Pennsylvania, the government's "machinery of death" is deeply flawed.

Pennsylvania's conservative Republican Legislature is not likely to pass a law ending this form of state-sponsored killing. But Gov. Wolf is well within his rights as governor to stop that machinery from sending more offenders to their deaths unless and until each and every one of its flaws are fixed.




Gov. Tom Wolf's moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania, imposed last week, is the easy way out, politically speaking.

Wolf has circumvented a standing law of Pennsylvania, stretching the executive power of his office beyond that of both existing legislation and judicial decisions made over which he should have no say.

There may be arguments against the death penalty, both its continued use and the means by which such sentences are carried out. And Pennsylvania has had an essential moratorium against the death penalty for decades.

Just three state inmates have been put to death since 1976, and in all three cases the convicted men decided to forgo additional appeals that, quite likely, would have had them still drawing breath today absent the intervention of nature.

Criminal convictions are to be rendered beyond a reasonable doubt. That is not entirely a comfortable level of certainty when it involves taking the life of an individual, regardless of his crime. As has been shown in the last few years, there have been inmates awaiting execution who did not deserve to be on death row — or even in prison.

Science and technology, including DNA evidence, have become powerful tools of justice often used by those fighting the death penalty.

But science is neutral. And while eyewitnesses can have questionable recollections, prosecutors can be blinded by high-profile cases into miscarriages of their offices, and juries can be too bloodthirsty, science remains, implacably, science.

DNA evidence can, today, greatly increase the certainty of an individual's guilt in a death penalty case. The presence of incontrovertible scientific evidence, combined with eyewitnesses and strong police and prosecutorial work can allow for verdicts far beyond those of reasonable doubt.

Had we done away with the death penalty decades ago due to its lack of certainty, it would have been difficult to argue. But as technology advances, so does the ability to have greater confidence in the development of capital-punishment cases. And with greater confidence should come less patience in the eternal appeals process now allowed in these cases.

Eliminating the death penalty now will be an argument not about the certainty of guilt but the underlying morality of the sentence.

And we say without apology that there are some crimes so awful that no other punishment will answer to the victims of them. We support the death penalty in those cases.

We think of the families and survivors of the victims of these crimes. Is it justice, especially now, if they have already been told that the perpetrator of the crimes against their loved ones is going to be executed, to instead see that sentence reduced to a life term? Yes, a life in confinement, but nevertheless, a life.

If Wolf has the courage of his convictions, let him fight an open battle on the death penalty. Don't ignore the law. It's a terrible precedent. Perhaps he learned it from watching Washington, D.C., lately.

— Lebanon Daily News



Casino gambling advocates in Pennsylvania actually argued, a decade ago, that the objective was not to create new gamblers but to capture Pennsylvania's portion of the Atlantic City market and money that otherwise would go to illegal gambling.

Continue reading this story on the...