Death penalty

As a legal challenge to Governor Tom Wolf’s moratorium on the death penalty advances, state lawmakers are planning their own review of the capital sentencing system.

The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over whether the governor can issue reprieves in each death penalty case, effectively imposing a moratorium on state executions.

Wolf cited concerns over the costs and flaws of the capital sentencing system.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Governor Tom Wolf is facing another legal challenge to his gubernatorial authority, less than a month into his term.

The Philadelphia district attorney’s petition to stop Wolf’s effective moratorium on the death penalty comes weeks after state Senate Republicans hauled the new administration to court for firing the Open Records director appointed by Wolf’s predecessor, Tom Corbett.

Each case has brought indignant legal filings accusing Wolf of gubernatorial overreach, but legal experts say the disputes wade into unsettled questions. 

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Last Friday, Governor Tom Wolf announced a hold on all executions in Pennsylvania, due to ongoing questions about the effectiveness of capital punishment.

While the death penalty is on hold, State Senator Daylin Leach is taking steps to repeal the practice in PA altogether.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Governor Tom Wolf has announced a moratorium on the death penalty, calling the state’s capital sentencing system “riddled with flaws.”

“The only certainty in the current system is that the process will be drawn out, expensive, and painful for all involved,” said Wolf in a written statement released Friday.

The moratorium will remain in effect until Wolf has reviewed the forthcoming report of the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Commission on Capital Punishment.

Thirty-two states, including Pennsylvania, have the death penalty. Since 1976 when the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment,  Rhode Island (1984),  New York (2007), New Jersey (2007),  New Mexico (2009) Connecticut (2012), and Maryland (2013)  have abolished it. But the repeal in the last three states was not retroactive so they still have prisoners on death row.  Massachusetts' death penalty statute was nullified in 1984 by court rulings.

Could Pennsylvania become the next state to abolish capital punishment?

Irish Jesuits / Flickr

  Sister Helen Prejean, has been an advocate for the abolishment of the death penalty, and a spiritual advisor for death row inmates and their families for decades.

Her bestselling book, Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States inspired an Oscar nominated film of the same name. This week, Sister Helen comes to Pittsburgh's Rodef Shalom Congregation to speak about capital punishment and the nation's criminal justice system.