“The Commonwealth shouldn’t be in the business of putting people to death. Period.”
And with those words, Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said he will not issue any execution warrants during his term.
During a Thursday morning press conference in Philadelphia, Shapiro said he will also call on the General Assembly to work with him to abolish the death penalty in Pennsylvania.
“I know that there are people on both sides of the aisle who agree with me on this, and there are those who don’t,” he said. “I believe we should work together.
“Pennsylvania should do what 25 other states have done in outlawing the death penalty or refusing to impose it – including many of our neighbors such as New Jersey, Maryland, and West Virginia.”
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, capital punishment is currently authorized in 27 states, by the federal government and the U.S. military. In recent years, New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2011), Connecticut (2012), Maryland (2013), New Hampshire (2019), Colorado (2020) and Virginia (2021) have legislatively abolished the death penalty, replacing it with a sentence of life imprisonment with no possibility for parole. The Nebraska Legislature also abolished capital punishment in 2015, but it was reinstated by a statewide vote in 2016. Additionally, courts in Washington and Delaware recently ruled that the states’ capital punishment laws are unconstitutional.
Shapiro will exercise an authority used by former Gov. Tom Wolf to effectively impose a moratorium on the death penalty.
He admitted his stance on capital punishment has changed over time.
“For more than a decade, including when I assumed office as Attorney General, I believed that the death penalty should be reserved for the most heinous crimes – but that it was, indeed, a just punishment for those crimes. However, when the first capital cases came to my desk in the AG’s office, I found myself repeatedly unwilling to seek the death penalty.”
Following the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh in 2018, Shapiro listened to the victims’ families and heard that they did not want the killer put to death.
“That moved me. And that’s stayed with me.”
According to the Department of Corrections, Pennsylvania has 101 men and women on death row. The state has executed three people since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, as courts and now governors have blocked every other death sentence thus far.
All three men who were executed gave up on their appeals voluntarily. The state’s most recent execution took place in 1999.
“This is a fundamental statement of morality,” said Shapiro. “Of what’s right and wrong.
“And I believe Pennsylvania must be on the right side of this issue.”
Senate Majority Leader Joe Pittman (R-41) issued a statement that said, “For us to learn of Governor Shapiro’s position on the death penalty only minutes before it was announced on his Twitter account is a rash approach to an issue of this magnitude. Any changes to close access to an element of punishment must appropriately consider the families of murder victims and the critical perspective of law enforcement.
“Protecting our society while implementing meaningful criminal justice reforms have been ongoing priorities for the Senate Republican Caucus, and we will continue to engage in criminal justice reform discussions this session. Without question, the legal and ethical aspects of the death penalty warrant careful examination before being used.”
updated to include Pittman response.
Being in prison for life is its own end. What right exists for society to extinguish a life? People continue regularly to do crimes invoking the death penalty and it deters very little so what is the point? Rather than spend tons on endless appeals its best to let people stay in prison and save the taxpayers money on a mountain appeals.
Keeping somebody in prison is not without costs.
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