Pennsylvania governor declares moratorium on death penalty

Pennsylvania governor declares moratorium on death penalty
By Daniel Kelley

By Daniel Kelley

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Governor Tom Wolf declared a moratorium on the death penalty in Pennsylvania on Friday, saying it was a flawed system that is “ineffective, unjust and expensive.”

The moratorium will remain in effect, Wolf’s office said, until the Democratic governor has received and reviewed a report by a task force established by the legislature in 2011 to study the effectiveness of the death penalty.

Wolf immediately granted a reprieve to murderer Terrance Williams, whose execution was scheduled for March 4.

The governor noted that six people on death row in Pennsylvania had been exonerated since the death penalty was reinstated in 1978. Nationwide, 150 people have been exonerated since then.

“This moratorium is in no way an expression of sympathy for the guilty on death row, all of whom have been convicted of committing heinous crimes,” Wolf said in a statement.

The statement said the moratorium does not commute the death sentences, leaving the door open for prisoners who are granted a reprieve to be executed in the future.

“This decision is based on a flawed system that has been proven to be an endless cycle of court proceedings as well as ineffective, unjust and expensive,” Wolf said.

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput applauded the move, saying it did not diminish support for the families of murder victims.

“But killing the guilty does not honor the dead nor does it ennoble the living,” Chaput said in a statement. “When we take a guilty person’s life we only add to the violence in an already violent culture and we demean our own dignity in the process.”

Opposing the moratorium, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association said Wolf ignored decisions by juries, judges and the legislature and “ultimately turned his back on the silenced victims of cold-blooded killers.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections told Reuters that the typical cost of housing a death row inmate is $10,000 more than housing other inmates and that price tag does not include legal costs of numerous appeals born by the justice system.

There are currently 186 inmates in Pennsylvania sentenced to be executed. Pennsylvania has executed three inmates since reinstatement of the death penalty.

Williams, a star high school quarterback from Philadelphia, was sentenced to death in 1986 for killing a 56-year-old man in 1984, when Williams was 18. Prosecutors said the killing was tied to a robbery and the defense maintained the older man had sexually abused Williams.

(Reporting by Daniel Kelley; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bill Trott)